By Rafael Nam| November 12, 2020
"Like many married and working couples first confronting the pandemic, Bianca Flokstra and Victor Udoewa tried to go on with their lives as normal.
Flokstra continued to work full time while taking care of their kids, ages 4 and 2. She also handled most of the housework, with her husband helping from time to time. It didn't work.
"Those first couple of months were really hard," Flokstra says. "There was ... a lot of fighting. A lot of tears."
The pandemic has upended many aspects of domestic life, and that has brought new attention to one of the most enduring disparities between men and women — the wide difference in handling housework and child care.
It's what Marianne Cooper, a sociologist at the Stanford VMware Women's Leadership Innovation Lab, calls one of society's most "stubborn" divides.
"The traditional gender division of labor is very durable," Cooper says. "Even the most egalitarian-thinking couples, after having children, find themselves in a much more traditional division of labor than they ever would have intended."
Cooper, who has studied the issue extensively, says that divide, which is rooted in history and perpetuated by persistent societal norms, has endured even as women have joined the workforce in larger numbers over the decades, making record gains.
Yet even as more families become dual-income households, women still do 30% more of the housework and 40% more of the child care, Cooper says.
The disparity in work done at home is now having a serious economic impact as entire families are forced home with schools closed and no child care options available.
More than 2.2 million women have left the workforce this year, far more than the 1.4 million men who have left as a result of the pandemic, according to the monthly U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data.
Proportionally, more women were employed in sectors that were hit hard by the pandemic, including hospitality and retail.
But Cooper, as well as many economists, says the burden placed on working moms during the pandemic is another key variable forcing many women out of the workforce.
Some couples have adapted.
Flokstra, for example, says she had little choice. She desperately needed sleep after exhausting days at a new job in international aid while also taking care of all of her other responsibilities.
She started sending the kids to her husband, unprompted. Then, she started drafting to-do lists — activities she and her husband would split day to day.
But getting there wasn't easy. It wasn't that Udoewa wasn't willing to help; he was.
Flokstra says she had become so used to doing household chores that she found it hard to delegate — and trust — her own husband to do the job.
That hesitancy is surprisingly common among women, according to Cooper.
It's a complicated mix of "mother's guilt" as well as societal expectations on couples, where men are still seen as the breadwinners."
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