Study: Parents reduced work hours in response to school and childcare closures

The K-12 school system is a fundamental tool for a well-functioning economy. In addition to providing children an enriching environment to learn in, it allows parents to work. The same is true of childcare.

However, policymakers have paid very little attention to how closing schools would affect working parents.

Generally, research on school and childcare closures has focused on whether parents are able to work or not. And while parents have stayed out of the labor force due to school or childcare closures, these effects have been small.

New evidence indicates that this is largely plausible. Closures have not made parents stop working completely. However,

while closures have had little impact on whether parents work at all, they have had significant effects on whether parents work full time (at least 35 hours) and the number of hours worked per week.


These effects are concentrated among low-educated parents, suggesting that such individuals had a more difficult time adjusting their work life to closures.

In short, parents responded to kids staying home by reducing work hours. This could partly explain why some studies that looked at labor force participation rates found little effect.

Specifically, the authors found that mothers reduced work hours per week by 1.3 and fathers by 1.5 hours. In addition, the number of parents working full-time declined by 3.8 percentage points for mothers and 2.5 percentage points for fathers.

Closures disproportionately affected low-income parents

These reductions are even larger for less-educated parents –– who tend to have lower incomes. This is likely due to two reasons:

….first, less educated individuals likely had a harder time arranging a flexible, at-home work schedule than those with more education.

…second, less-educated parents may have not been able to secure options such as private schooling or alternative childcare arrangements to the degree that more educated parents did.

I have recently written about how current school closures will worsen learning outcomes as well as mental health issues. The effect of closures on working parents is also something that policymakers need to consider. Low-income parents lose out on income when they have to reduce working hours in order to stay home with their kids.