The ‘three key myths’ surrounding working moms, according to a gender economist

·Assistant Editor
·4 min read

Since the precipitous drop at the beginning of the pandemic, women are filtering back into the workforce — though the recovery still has a way to go.

On Friday, the Labor Department released its monthly jobs report, showing the labor force participation rate for women sitting at 56.7%. Gains have slowed as of late and women's labor force participation still hovers around levels similar to those 40 years ago.

From burnout to a lack of accessible and affordable child care, research shows women, and particularly working moms, are facing a number of practical barriers to re-entry. On top of that, according to a gender economist, another factor holding women back are the myths surrounding women's roles in both the household and the workplace.

The first myth Pipeline CEO Katica Roy aimed to dispel was working moms aren't committed to their jobs.

“What we know from research is that, actually, working moms are the most productive employees over the course of their career,” Roy told Yahoo Finance Live (video above). She highlighted this myth was particularly pernicious because this bias corresponds with lower wages.

However, women did face more challenges in juggling work and parenting. A survey by Pew Research found more than half (54%) of working moms said they could not give 100% at work, compared with 43% of working dads, due to balancing work and parenting duties.

Meanwhile, over a third (34%) of working moms cut back on work hours due to parenting responsibilities compared with a quarter of working dads (26%).

The labor force participation rate for women throughout the pandemic. (St. Louis Federal Reserve, Bureau of Labor Statistics)
The labor force participation rate for women throughout the pandemic. (St. Louis Federal Reserve, Bureau of Labor Statistics)

Things weren't necessarily better for mothers who were able to work from home. The same survey found working mothers were more likely to report taking on child care responsibilities while working remotely. The report also found that women experienced more difficulty completing their work due to interruptions.

The second myth, "or the myth of secondary income," perpetuates the notion working moms can opt in and out of the workforce as they please or that they work for supplemental spending money.

Roy rebuffed this claim too: “We know that that's not true — 40% of U.S. households actually rely on mom's income as the breadwinner mom.”

Breadwinning mothers also experience a larger gender pay gap than working mothers overall, Roy highlighted.

"It's actually $0.66 on the $1.00. It's a huge gap," she said. "And they're supporting 40% of our future labor force. So this is a gap that we really need to invest in closing and closing it now."

The last myth suggests working moms should change their behavior to receive equitable treatment at work. Instead, Roy called for the inverse: "What we need to do is actually ensure that workplaces value moms equitably.”

Women, who were more likely to work in low wage roles and in the leisure and hospitality sector, were particularly susceptible when pandemic layoffs began. After 16,000 child care facilities were closed due to the coronavirus, it led many families to scramble for alternatives.

While child care isn't the only reason mothers left the workforce during the pandemic, it was one leading contributor that hasn't resolved for many households. In the past two years, 58% of parents were unable to find child care, the Chamber of Commerce found, while 26% of parents were unable to afford child care costs.

A woman works in a house while workers are forced to work from home and demand payback for extra home office costs during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Sassenheim, Netherlands October 2, 2020. Picture taken October 2, 2020. REUTERS/Eva Plevier
A woman works in a house while workers are forced to work from home and demand payback for extra home office costs during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Sassenheim, Netherlands October 2, 2020. Picture taken October 2, 2020. REUTERS/Eva Plevier

The U.S. is one of the only countries without guaranteed paid family leave and is an outlier among wealthy nations when it comes to child care subsidies. The Biden administration's American Families Plan, which proposed a comprehensive family and medical leave plan as well as universal pre-school, has remained stalled in Congress.

With the current tight labor market consisting of low unemployment and hundreds of thousands of jobs added back each month, luring working moms back into the workforce could go a long way to ease conditions.

“I think the question in terms of how long will it take us to bridge that gap and get back to where we were prior to the pandemic and then accelerate progress is really up to the decisions that we make,” Roy said. “Are we committed to making the workplace more equitable? And will we prioritize equitable skilling to ensure that women have access to the future of work?”

Grace is an assistant editor for Yahoo Finance.

Read the latest financial and business news from Yahoo Finance

Follow Yahoo Finance on Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Facebook, Flipboard, and LinkedIn