Why supporting working moms benefits families, employers, and you


Ana Kent

Mom sits in her backyard with son and baby daughter

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.

Mom, twin boys, and dad in living room with laundry and toys
Redefining ‘normal’ for moms Before the COVID-19 pandemic, married moms spent more time caring for children, cooking, and cleaning than married dads.

While some things are at a new normal now, that doesn’t mean they’re okay. After all, “normal” in pre-pandemic times meant

I don’t just want moms to get back to where they were before the recession. I want to help uplift moms and make the workplace more welcoming to them. Doing so can economically benefit us all.

Broad benefits of supporting working moms

When working women become mothers (as many do), they have to weigh the pros and cons of staying at their paid jobs. Do they get paid time off? Will their salary be enough to cover the cost of childcare, which is unaffordable for many families?

For some, particularly single moms, the answer to these questions is no.

But making it easier for moms to work and be supported in their jobs could be good for everyone. It’s a point I made in that blog post I mentioned earlier. “The US might be more competitive internationally, and have a larger economy, more vibrant businesses and thriving families.”

Why? The more people work, the larger the economy.

3 reasons to support working moms even if you’re not a parent
  1. States’ economies could grow quite a bit.
    Keeping women in the workforce, pulling others in, and closing gender gaps in compensation, employment and hours worked could add billions to the gross domestic product of each state annually.
Ana Kent with her kids 2022
Author’s photo: Ana with her kids.
  1. Having moms in the workforce can make the US more competitive.
    The US could leverage the innovation and productivity of women by pulling more moms into the workforce. Having paid federal family and medical leave is an important step. It’s one reason a smaller share of American women work compared to women in similar countries like the U.K., Australia and Canada. (Plus, Iceland, of course).
  1. Businesses stand to gain, too.
    Businesses lose out on talent and innovation when moms leave. It’s also harder for businesses to fill senior leadership positions with capable women when moms leave. Offering flexible work schedules and helping employees pay for childcare are win-wins. Research shows these options can be good for businesses. In fact, people are more likely to be happy with and stay with the company. They are also more likely to show up to work and be more productive.

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.

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