What the American Time Use Survey can teach us about the female workfo

On July 22, 2021, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics launched the outcomes of the 2020 American Time Use Survey (ATUS), an annual examine of how the folks of the U.S. spend their time. Whereas the examine was paused for a number of months between March and Might of 2020, it’s our first actual take a look at what modified inside our lives throughout the COVID pandemic.

These of us who work in the direction of gender fairness and/or equality (I take advantage of each phrases to try to keep away from instantly elevating flags for any explicit group) have lengthy used the ATUS as documentation about how totally different working ladies’s lives can be from these of males. We all know that girls constantly spend extra time on family and caregiving actions than do males. Our questions are actually about what actually modified throughout COVID, notably for working ladies and their households.

On common, all of us did a little bit extra sleeping and rather less grooming. Males did improve their time spent on family actions, notably round housekeeping and childcare. The challenges for working ladies, nevertheless, proceed in that their time spent on these family actions additionally elevated, typically lower than for males, however typically extra. Not surprisingly, the largest modifications needed to do with caregiving. For ladies, the common hours per day spent caring for and serving to family members went from 1.99 in 2019 to 2.41 in 2020. For males, their care actions went from 1.38 to 1.73 hours. And all of us anticipated that homeschooling was going to make a giant distinction. Dads helped, but not as a lot. For mothers, the time spent doing education-related actions with their youngsters greater than doubled between 2019 and 2020 (from 1.01 hours per day to 2.41). The rise for males was .96 to 1.65 common hours per day. Whereas a distinction of minutes right here and there could not sound substantial, it provides up rapidly. These numbers assist us think about what occurred over the previous yr. The query at present is, what occurs now?


COVID was brutal and altered most of our lives. Instances of turmoil and alter are instances of alternative. Instances of radical turmoil are additionally instances for radical alternatives. And one place that positively wants radical change is the world of labor for ladies. This world has developed, to some extent, over many generations. Company life has modified some over the previous few many years, however not as a lot or in methods which might be wanted. The world of labor nonetheless considerably depends on a mannequin that William Whyte described in his 1956 sociological traditional, The Group Man. In his foreword to the 2002 reissue of that e book, Joe Nocera wrote about Whyte’s view that companies had it “precisely backward” in making an attempt to get rid of “the messiness of human interplay.” Whyte emphatically experiences Work as Dominant: no compartmentalization of life. Every part else is subordinate to work and in the end evaluated when it comes to the way it suits in with work. Though the title of the e book is The Group Man, ladies are actually included. They’re the wives. (However that’s a special op-ed.)

The problem that continues to be is to recraft an method to working that acknowledges—and connects with—the different areas of our lives in a optimistic method. Our lives, together with work, are messy. Not solely messy, however totally different, notably in the methods during which ladies enter the skilled workforce, their experiences whereas there, and the rewards they take away. And never solely totally different but in addition typically lesser than these of many males in the workforce.

In reality, throughout my time period in the Girls’s Bureau of the Division of Labor, we recognized 15 potential influences that might drive these variations. We made a wall-size graphic of it to repeatedly maintain these key points entrance and heart. Nonetheless, the quantity 15 is just not meant to be definitive or set in stone. As a group, the Girls’s Bureau workers often proposed additions or mixtures. We additionally checked out how they intersected with one another. 5 of them utilized to the pipeline concerning how ladies enter the workforce. One other 5 targeted on labor power attachment largely regarding family and household. The remaining 5 centered on wages and advantages.

Given these present variations, I’ve at all times been puzzled by conclusions drawn by some that focus is not wanted on workforce points for ladies. As an illustration, the Heritage Basis has a minimum of twice concluded that the Girls’s Bureau had change into redundant and out of date as a result of the challenges that girls face in working are the identical challenges confronted by all staff (learn males). That may be a head-scratcher to assume that mere comparable participation numbers meant comparable experiences and outcomes.

Girls’s lives are sometimes pushed by making an attempt to suit the numerous milestones of their private lives (marriage, youngsters, getting old dad and mom, and so forth.) into organizational work that has been structured to assist varieties of lives for ladies, and males, that not exist. Having after which elevating youngsters is sophisticated, demanding, and costly. And ladies’s monetary lives, together with their earnings potential, are usually thought of a personal matter, with discussions scarcely recognizing the complexity of their lives. But the monetary dimension is an integral a part of who ladies are and what they’re making an attempt to attain each personally and professionally. In different phrases, every of those areas, skilled, private and monetary, has a point of analysis behind it as a single matter, but nearly nothing exists at present to acknowledge and assist us higher perceive this trichotomy of female lives as a complete.

Take, for instance, an expert girl who’s reconsidering her future put up COVID and decides on a profession pivot that permits her extra dwelling/work coherency. She has two youngsters in pre-school and an toddler. She is extraordinarily lucky in that she can at present afford in-home childcare, and that added expense has to play into her employment choices. She is aware of that she should earn compensation that can proceed to contribute to the assist of her household. She additionally is aware of that given the arrival of the child; they’ll want extra room, requiring a brand new home close to education for his or her different youngsters.

None of those choices can stand separate from the others. Once more, that is an distinctive case given the capacity to even afford and discover childcare. Her present employer’s perspective could also be that they’re seeing a gifted worker bailing as a result of she doesn’t see her life becoming with their firm’s method to work. However in addition they acknowledge the price of recruiting and coaching a brand new worker. One other employer might even see the chance of buying new expertise, but provided that they can construction a piece position that meets the wants of an precise, actual, girl with a posh life.


The conversations about working ladies are too typically homogenized or make assumptions that each one working ladies have comparable wants, experiences, and expectations. That is removed from true. My instance above was very slender, deliberately specializing in a company skilled girl. However I actually acknowledge that not all working ladies have the identical scenario or wants. Actually, the myriad methods during which these 15 ladies’s work-life influences intersect end in a variety of outcomes.

As a navy partner, when my husband was on energetic responsibility, I used to be lucky sufficient to have the ability to go to highschool, greater than as soon as. For a lot of navy spouses (92% of that are ladies), maybe particularly ladies in the professions, the shifting that goes together with navy life can be devasting to constructing a resume, not to mention a profession.

There are a variety of experiences, white papers, ponderings, and pontifications popping out on the challenges of returning to a world of labor. But most of them, with the exception of the digital versus brick-and-mortar query, are pondering of it when it comes to returning to the pre-COVID establishment. This is able to be a missed alternative of epic proportions.

With the exception of the workforce challenges in the meals and hospitality business, a lot of the remainder of the focus is addressed to ladies working for big companies. Let’s do not forget that of the barely greater than 6 million employer companies in the United States, solely about 20,000 or lower than 1% of all U.S. companies are what we’d think about “massive companies” with 500 or extra staff. True, they do make use of barely greater than half of the workforce. However there’s nearly half that they don’t make use of.

But these giant companies have the main position in defining what constitutes a “good job” in three primary methods. Why? First, and doubtless foremost, they’ve the motivation to get again to a system that largely works for them. Who wouldn’t need staff who at all times thought of work first? Second, they’ve the assets to have it their method. And third, they’ve the loudest voice. We largely see and listen to the tales of “massive enterprise” in the media. As such, they change into the position mannequin for the different 99% of U.S. companies which might be in search of steering on easy methods to appeal to and retain expertise.

It’s about time to rethink how we work collectively inside and throughout firms in a method that works nicely for ladies and their households, but additionally nicely for employers. In any case, companies must thrive to assist these new methods of working. But, it’s not simply companies that have to be involved. Our multi-layered governments are taking a look at lives and labor in a number of other ways by way of a wide range of proposals, but the problem stays to see how all our efforts work collectively for the wanted change. It is a name to motion for everybody in any respect ranges to concentrate, assume about what would make a distinction in your individual life, and get vocal.

And by the method, all that is higher for males, too. On a private observe, our youngest son, a latest new dad, is emphatic that he was going to craft his work to suit his life, not the different method round. Onward.

Patricia Greene, PhD is the former director of the Girls’s Bureau, U.S. Division of Labor, and professor emerita of Babson Faculty.