The Motherhood Employment Gap: State by State

New Roosevelt Institute study reveals the relationship between state-level family-friendly policies and women’s labor market participation

August 16, 2022
Ariela Weinberger
(212) 444-9130

When schools and childcare closed at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, many mothers were faced with the difficult decision to leave the workforce to care for their young children. With the return to school in September 2021, many of these same mothers were able to re-enter the workforce; however, given stalled federal family-first legislation, this often depended on their access to family-friendly policies (such as parental leave and publicly funded childcare) at the state level. 

Today, as women across the US lose their access to reproductive rights, policies that safeguard the socioeconomic rights of parents are especially important. Yet studies show that states with the most abortion restrictions are the ones with the lowest coverage of family-friendly policies. Now more than ever, we need to show the correlation between comprehensive family-first policies and mothers’ employment levels.

Family-Friendly Policies and the Motherhood Employment Gap During the COVID-19 Recovery, a new Roosevelt Institute study, draws together the effect of family-friendly policies on women’s employment and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on women’s labor market outcomes. Authored by Joana Duran-Franch, Roosevelt Institute fellow, and Ira Regmi, Roosevelt Institute program manager of macroeconomic analysis, the study examines mothers’ workforce participation across states and finds that women are more likely to participate in the labor market when they live in a state with family-friendly policies, such as parental leave and publicly funded childcare. The study also finds that Black women and women of Asian descent (with at most a high school degree) were more affected by the policies, but that the motherhood employment gap for these two demographic groups is on average greater relative to white women, making family-friendly policies particularly relevant for these groups.

“In the face of organized conservative backlash and the failure of federal action, state-level policies are becoming the cornerstone of policy provisions targeting families. As a result, the need to establish and reveal the relationship between comprehensive family and care policies and women’s employment levels is more important than ever,” said Regmi. “Now is the time for states to rise to the occasion and recognize the disproportionate childcare burden placed on women and the subsequent economic cost of non-employed women. Failure to do so will translate into stalled progress of young mothers’  employment levels, and thus grow the motherhood employment gap.” 

Furthermore, the study corroborates research made by several economists and policymakers about the economic impacts of family-friendly policies, including the strong correlation between state-level family-friendly policies and changes in the motherhood employment gap.

“Today, we are also witnessing a rise of dangerous rhetoric around family-friendly policies following the fall of Roe v. Wade. Anti-abortion arguments seek to misuse expanding child support as an excuse to curtail people’s reproductive rights. The violation of the right to bodily autonomy is incongruent with child and family-friendly policies,” said Duran-Franch and Regmi.