Earlier this year, BPC and Morning Consult surveyed 2,500 working mothers to better understand the varied challenges they face. The poll confirms that the burdens experienced by moms in the workforce are not shared equally. Today, single working moms face substantially more financial difficulties than their married counterparts.
During the pandemic, single working moms faced considerably greater challenges balancing caregiving with making ends meet. Caregiving responsibilities force mothers to make complex decisions for their families – decisions greatly exacerbated by the pandemic. Single working moms were particularly squeezed, forced to tighten their spending and modify their career ambitions.
Finding 1: Single working mothers experience heightened financial insecurity relative to married working mothers.
When asked about their financial security, 55% of single mothers in the workforce report feeling less financially secure today than before the pandemic, compared to 46% of married mothers. Further, many would struggle to make ends meet if they were to go more than a week without pay. A staggering 37% of single working moms cannot go one week without pay and still meet their families’ financial needs, while 70% cannot go more than one month. When we compare these responses to married mothers, the financial strains become even more apparent. Only 18% of married moms cannot go one week without pay, and 51% cannot go more than one month without pay. Moreover, nearly three times as many married (13%) as single (5%) working moms could maintain their family’s financial needs for more than six months without a paycheck.
Finding 2: Due to increased caregiving demands, single mothers tightened spending more than married mothers during the pandemic.
While both single and married working moms faced tough financial decisions trying to meet increased caregiving demands during the pandemic, single moms carried a larger burden. These caregiving burdens resulted in immediate financial strains among single working mothers, with 48% tapping into emergency savings compared to 43% of married mothers. Single mothers also reduced spending on everyday purchases (54%) at a higher rate than married mothers (50%). Additionally, single working mothers put future financial security on hold at slightly higher rates than married mothers: 39% delayed or decreased contributions to their retirement savings and 24% reduced payments on their student loans. Decisions like these could weigh down single mothers’ financial security for decades to come.
Finding 3: Single working mothers modified their work lives due to caregiving responsibilities at consistently higher rates than married working mothers during the pandemic.
Increased caregiving responsibilities during the pandemic placed strains on single mothers’ professional lives, likely compounding their financial strain even further: 39% reduced their work hours, and 27% quit a job because of caregiving responsibilities. Married working moms faced similar challenges balancing work and caregiving, but to a lesser extent: 32% reduced their work hours and 16% quit a job. When options for child care were limited, the best decision for some may have been to drop out of the workforce or reduce hours to meet increased needs at home. Their decisions to scale back work during the pandemic extended beyond quitting or reducing hours: single moms were much more likely to modify their career ambitions, not pursue opportunities, and change jobs for more flexible hours, all of which have long-term implications for their careers and financial security.
Alternatively, while many moms were scaling back their careers due to caregiving, others were acquiring a second job or entering the labor force due to increased financial hardship that was also associated with caregiving. In particular, single working moms were also more likely to get a job if they were previously unemployed (22%) or start a second job (32%).
Finding 4: Increased caregiving responsibilities forced single working mothers to alter their personal lives more than married working mothers.
Not only did working moms modify their spending and career ambitions, they also made lifestyle changes during the pandemic to accommodate increased caregiving responsibilities. Forty-seven percent of single moms delayed major life decisions, while 66% took less time for themselves, putting their personal needs on hold to address increased caregiving. Many working moms also found themselves juggling both the needs of their children and the needs of other family members: 26% of single moms made the decision to move closer to an aging parent or relative, uprooting their lives to provide care to a loved one, compared to only 16% of married moms. When working moms are expected to meet caregiving needs for both their kids and their aging relatives, it likely exacerbates financial hardships they are experiencing.
While all working moms have been impacted by shifting caregiving responsibilities during the pandemic, single working moms faced heightened challenges juggling work and family. These challenges likely contributed to the high levels of financial insecurity that single moms are experiencing today. These challenges will only continue for single working mothers but, as the survey shows, could be alleviated by a host of public and private policy changes. Policies addressing gaps in child care access, paid leave, workplace flexibility, and financial security are critical to helping working moms achieve stability, advance their careers, and provide for their families.
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