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Yale pandemic study finds working moms multitask more, facing higher cognitive burden

Woman working from home during quarantine with her little daughter all around.
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A mother works from home during quarantine with her daughter around.

A recent Yale University study appears to further strengthen the case for affordable child care. Scientists found that mothers are disproportionately burdened with multitasking when working remotely during the pandemic, thereby increasing their cognitive load.

Based on a lot of the psychological studies, we see that when people are trying to multitask, they’re more likely to be stressed, and they have worse mental health; it’s very, very difficult for most people,” said Yale sociologist Emma Zang, author of the study.

Zang and her team have a couple of interesting findings: Mothers working from home spent time on housework, and time supervising and playing with their kids, while they were working – a responsibility that “increased dramatically” for women. Fathers working from home multitasked to a far lesser extent, even though they spent time teaching their kids and also did housework, more housework, in fact, than they did before the pandemic.

“So a major takeaway is there is a much higher expectation or much higher demand for mothers to be able to multitask,” Zang said.

The researchers did not look into productivity, but Zang says other studies show that productivity among work-from-home employees increased during the pandemic.

The policy implications are clear.

“From our preliminary findings, we see a lot of parents demand more child care subsidies or additional child care support,” Zang said. “That will especially help working mothers to focus on their work at home.”

According to the Center for American Progress, the cost of child care in Connecticut per month, per child, is $1,712 for infant and toddler classrooms, $1,054 for preschoolers and $1,254 for home-based family child care.

Zang has a second ongoing study looking into what companies can do to help working parents better maintain their productivity and work-life balance.

The pilot study consisting of 500 respondents just concluded, and the researchers are launching the next survey aimed at 4,000 participants.

State lawmakers are expected to expand access to child care this session in efforts to attract workers – especially women – back to the labor force.

Sujata Srinivasan is Connecticut Public Radio’s senior health reporter. Prior to that, she was a senior producer for Where We Live, a newsroom editor, and from 2010-2014, a business reporter for the station.

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