May 12, 2024 - Economy

Mother's Day surprise: More women with children are working than ever before

A line chart that displays the percentage of mothers with children under 18 who are working from 2010 to 2023. The percentage gradually increased from 64.4% in 2010 to a peak of 71.7% projected for 2023, with a notable dip to 65.9% in 2020.
Data: BLS; Chart: Axios Visuals

It wasn't that long ago that experts were worrying that women, especially moms, would never recover from the shock of 2020. But when it comes to the job market, they turned out to be wrong.

The big picture: More mothers are working now than before the pandemic began.

Catch up quick: From February to April 2020, mothers' employment plummeted nearly 16%, notes an analysis released by the Department of Labor's Women's Bureau.

  • The assumption was that who left the workforce would have a tough time getting back in, and that would likely "exacerbate inequalities" between men and women, as one academic paper pointed out at the time.

State of play: Instead, the labor market saw fast growth in 2021 and 2022 and pulled mostly everyone who wanted to work back to the market.

Zoom in: One driver of this growth? Remote work.

  • Last year, about 24% of mothers said they worked from home at least some of the time — and rates were even higher for those whose youngest child is under the age of 6, according to the analysis.

Reality check: Progress has been uneven. Mothers who do not have a bachelor's degree haven't quite gotten back to their pre-pandemic levels — likely because they're less likely to work in remote-friendly industries.

What to watch: The child care industry still hasn't recovered from the crisis and may put a damper on this trend.

Emily's thought bubble: Often when we report on mothers who are employed outside the home, folks write in and say these women are forced into the labor market because of cost pressures.

  • There's little evidence that's true, says Tiffany Boiman, deputy director of the Labor Department's Women's Bureau.
  • Plus, when mothers are working that's good for a families economic security overall, she says. "Whatever unexpected shocks come down the road, they are going to be better positioned to weather those if they are already working."
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