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Women became the ultimate multitaskers during Covid (because of course they did)

The annual American Time Use survey revealed that working women spent over 7 hours a day juggling child care with their jobs in 2020, compared to less than 5 for men.
Mother holding baby while using laptop/working from home
A mom works from home with her young child.MoMo Productions / Getty Images

It’s no secret that women, particularly working mothers, took on the brunt of caregiving and helping school-aged children through tasks like remote learning, in addition to managing their jobs over the last 17 months.

But new Labor Department data released this week in the American Time Use Survey (ATUS) revealed that women with children under age 13 spent around eight hours each day on primary and secondary child care responsibilities, compared to less than five hours for men.

For working mothers with young children, they also clocked in over seven hours each weekday on direct and indirect care, on top of working about six hours each day.

RELATED: Women do 2 more hours of housework daily than men, study says

Overall, the data indicated that the percentage of employed people working from home almost doubled last year to 42 percent, from 22 percent in 2019.

The pandemic impacted the ATUS itself as well. The survey was suspended during the first months of the pandemic, from mid-March until mid-May, so the data collection period compares May through December 2020 with the same time in 2019.

Since 2003, the survey has provided a detailed picture from the Labor Department of how, where and with whom Americans spend their time. That includes activities like volunteering, household unpaid labor, child care, exercise and leisure.

RELATED: US women are working longer hours as their sleep and social lives suffer

While the increase in secondary child care – supervising at least one child while doing a primary activity like working – was observed by both men and women (adults spent 1.6 hours more per day in 2020 compared with 2019), mothers continued to shoulder the majority of caregiving.

“[The] ATUS has always underestimated the amount of time that mothers spend on child care, due to the fact that most of the time those women are also coded as doing other activities simultaneously,” Rasheed Malik, a senior policy analyst at the Center for American Progress (CAP), told Know Your Value. “They sought to correct this by adding the ‘secondary child care’ activity, but it’s still a challenge to accurately capture the staggering disparities in unpaid labor between men and women.”

The disproportionate time women devoted to child care follows pre-pandemic patterns, but what does this mean for the future of women and mothers in the workforce?

“Women will not see a full economic recovery until we acknowledge the significant unpaid time they spend caring for children and prioritize policies that support their caregiving, such as ensuring quality, affordable child care and paid family and medical leave that enable them to return to work,” said Diana Boesch, a policy analyst for women’s economic security at CAP, who spoke to Know Your Value. “Policies that guarantee women better paying jobs, ensure flexibility for both parents, and provide access to gender neutral paid leave can begin to correct this imbalance.”