Gender Differences in Telecommuting and Implications for Inequality at Home and Work

The global pandemic has led to an unprecedented shift to remote work that will likely persist to some degree into the future. Telecommuting’s impact on flexibility and work family conflict is a critical question for researchers and policy-makers. Our study addresses this question with data collected before and during the COVID-19 crisis: the 2003-2018 American Time Use Survey (ATUS, N = 19,179) and the April and May 2020 COVID Impact Survey (N = 784). Comparing mothers and fathers who work exclusively at the workplace, exclusively from home, and part-day from home, we describe differences in time spent on housework, childcare, and leisure; the nature of time worked at home; and the subjective experiences of telecommuting. In addition to a broad descriptive portrait, we take advantage of a quasi-experimental design in the ATUS leave supplements to examine time working at home among those who report ever telecommuting, providing estimates of telecommuting’s effect on other uses of time that better approximate causal relationships than prior studies. We find that gender gaps in housework are larger for telecommuters, and, among telecommuters, larger on telecommuting days. Conversely, telecommuting may shrink the gender gap in childcare, particularly among couples with two full time earners, although childcare more frequently impinges upon mothers’ work time. Survey data collected following the March COVID19 stay-at-home orders show that telecommuting mothers more frequently report feelings of anxiety, loneliness and depression than telecommuting fathers. Early estimates of responses to the COVID19 pandemic offer insights into future implications of telecommuting for gender equality at work.
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