I blew on my scalding coffee, willing it to cool down enough to get that first jolt of caffeine. It was a rare morning. I was on a kid-free coffee date with my friend, Karen. As moms, we don’t often carve out time for ourselves. But that day, we decided to catch up. We talked about our young kids, our perpetual fatigue, and the endless piles of laundry. (Where do all those missing socks go?!)
Then, I put on my Fed researcher hat (sorry, Karen!). I talked about an interesting event that happened in the 1970s. Icelandic women went on strike for a day to show how necessary their paid and unpaid work was to society. An impressive 90% of women participated. They didn’t go to work and they didn’t do any child-rearing. And they got results. The very next year, parliament passed a law guaranteeing equal pay. Iceland still has the highest marks for gender equity worldwide.
I then went on to share that researchers estimated the value of women and girls’ unpaid work in the US at $1.48 trillion annually. That’s a lot of money—more than twice the US annual defense budget.
My friend, who put her career on hold after her daughter was born, joked that she should submit an invoice to her husband. She’d hit on an important point: unpaid work has great economic value.
“I’ve thought about submitting an invoice to my husband. The housework, the child rearing… it would add up!”– Karen P., Home Manager and Child Development Executive (i.e. homemaker)
The “mom-cession” and beyond
This conversation sparked the inspiration for my most recent St. Louis Fed blog post. In it, I explore the benefits of supporting working moms. I’ve argued in my research that moms had it especially hard during the COVID-19 recession. It was a “mom-cession” in that sense. Working moms increased time spent caring for children more than dads did. They had to reduce paid work hours. Moms also had high unemployment and left the workforce in droves. Moms had a slow recovery, too.
My friend Karen chose to leave her job in order to raise her kids. At that moment, it was the best option for her and her family, as it is for millions of families. However, it’s often a choice made with little support. For instance, with no paid federal family and medical leave, and not enough employers who offer family-friendly policies. If society and businesses strongly support working moms, maybe our daughters will have better options when making that choice. Plus, it could be good for us all.