Remote Work Could Influence Family Planning in the Years to Come

By Rachel Puryear

Many people who choose remote work do so because it allows more flexibility to stay at home with children, and to generally spend more time with families. For some workers, a suitable child care solution – or a lack thereof – can make the difference between holding down a profitable job, and remaining reluctantly unemployed in order to care for children.

Mom working at computer at home, with kid sitting on her shoulders.

During the pandemic, according to the IZA Institute of Labor Economics; some of the workers who struggled the most to meet the (often-conflicting) demands of both work life and family life were mothers who did not have the option to work remotely (even more so than similarly situated fathers).

Also according to IZA, notably, even mothers working from home were also more likely to have child care needs interrupt their work day than fathers working from home. So although remote work can reduce the pressure on working parents, it is not a substitute for outside child care.

The reality of much of the twentieth century was that a family’s socioeconomic status inversely correlated with the number of children they had, especially in relatively wealthy countries. Now that we are well into the twenty-first century, however, that trend could easily flatten or even reverse in the coming decades. Parents, and especially mothers; are starting to have more children if they have jobs which offer flexibility and at least some ability to work remotely, compared with those who have no such remote opportunities. Workers able to work at least somewhat remotely are more likely than the general working population to be well educated, and to be relatively high income earners.

According to a German study, this reversing fertility trend could create a new “digital divide” in terms of who has children, and how many children they have. The beneficiaries of this divide will likely be able to feasibly have larger families, or even have families at all; compared with those who must work in person.

This new reality could make it critical for employers to offer remote work options if they can, especially if much of their workforce is female. In competing for female workers, employers able to offer work-from-home positions will have a significant advantage over employers unable or unwilling to do so.

At the same time, remote work is not without challenges for families. Parents who work from home tend to experience blurring of lines between work and personal life, given their close proximity to their workspace, as well as perhaps expectations of employers that remote workers make themselves constantly available.

Accordingly, remote working is not a magic bullet for working parents to solve all the problems arising out of juggling work and personal lives.

Nonetheless, on the whole, parents who work remotely do seem to enjoy significant advantages over parents who have no option to work remotely. Therefore, opportunities for remote work (where feasible for an employer) may in the coming years not only be more intensely debated as an employment matter; but also as an equal opportunity matter.

Thank you, dear readers, for reading, following, and sharing. Here’s to your finding work which will best help you in balancing work and family life.

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