The immense challenges placed on the health care and caregiving sectors throughout the pandemic led the World Health Organization to deem 2021 the “Year of Health and Care Workers.” Women make up 77.6% of health care workers and bear the brunt of these challenges. Many of these workers are also parents, facing the worst of COVID-19 in their workplace and heightened caregiving needs at home.
BPC and Morning Consult surveyed a national sample of 2,500 mothers in the workforce, and found that working moms today face caregiving-related barriers to financial security and advancing their careers. The poll’s results also indicate that these challenges are especially pronounced among moms working in health care professions.
Worsening national shortages of health care providers—including nurses, direct care workers, behavioral health providers, and primary care physicians—are creating challenges to health care access and quality, particularly in rural areas. Consequently, there is an urgent need for policies that help working moms remain in the health care workforce.
Moms in health care professions face heightened caregiving-related barriers to career advancement. Because of competing needs at work and home, moms in health care are often unable to take risks on new opportunities or pursue more demanding jobs that would advance their careers. Indeed, about half of moms working in health care said that changing jobs within the same industry is challenging when thinking about their work arrangements and caregiving responsibilities. These responsibilities can pose difficulties in other areas of mothers’ lives too, such as their physical and mental health.
In particular, 46% of mothers working in the health care sector cite caregiving responsibilities as a barrier to changing jobs. Moms working in health care are highly uncomfortable with taking a new role that aligns with their career interests if it requires a significant pay cut (87%), more demanding and unpredictable hours (81%), less workplace flexibility (65%), less job security (85%), or fewer benefits (81%) – each of these responses is notably higher than those among all working moms.
Caregiving responsibilities during the pandemic substantially impacted the personal lives of mothers in the health care industry. To care for their children, 67% of mothers who work in health care said that they have taken less time for themselves during the pandemic, compared to 62% of working mothers overall. Additionally, between their limited ability to work and increased expenses resulting from caregiving, working moms became more financially insecure and had to cut back their spending. Moms working in health care were no different – during the pandemic, 66% of moms working in health care reduced spending on non-essential activities and 54% reduced spending on everyday purchases, such as groceries and transportation.
Paid family leave, flexible work arrangements, and affordable child care would help moms working in health care advance their careers, maintain financial security, and reduce stress.
- Paid family leave. Moms working in health care report that paid family leave would benefit multiple facets of their lives at notably higher rates than moms working in other sectors. 61% say that paid family leave would help them remain in the workforce (compared to 53% of all working moms). Half of moms working in health care say that paid family leave would also help them switch jobs (50%) and work more hours (48%). These numbers are notably higher than the average working mom. In addition to advancing the careers of moms working in health care, paid family leave would also greatly benefit their personal lives – 62% say the benefit would help them fulfil family responsibilities and benefit their mental health (compared to 56% and 55% of all working moms, respectively) while 45% say that it would positively influence their future plans to have children (compared to 33% of all working moms).
- Flexible work conditions. Among moms working in health care, 63% say that flexible work conditions would help them remain in the workforce. Additionally, surveyed mothers reported that flexible work arrangements would aid in their ability to fulfill family duties (63%) and positively influence their mental health and stress levels (60%).
- Affordable, quality child care. Like paid family leave, child care is critical to moms who must balance demands at home and in health care professions. For instance, 66% of moms working in health care say that access to affordable, quality child care would help them to advance their careers, compared to 56% of all working moms. Additionally, among those without affordable child care, 67% of moms working in health care say access to child care would benefit their mental health, compared to 61% of all working moms.
Notably, the impact of the benefits like flexible work arrangements, paid family leave, and affordable child care is overwhelmingly positive among those who already have those benefits. For instance, about three-quarters (74%) of moms working in health care who have flexible work hours say that the benefit positively impacts their mental health and stress levels. 53% of moms in health care who have paid family leave say that it helps them stay in the workforce. Additionally, 69% of mothers in health care with access to affordable child care agree that it helps them fulfill family responsibilities.
Between demands at home and at work, moms working in the health care sector have been facing immense challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic. While the proposed policy solutions would aid all mothers, the BPC-Morning Consult poll reveals that moms in health care would particularly benefit from policies that address gaps in paid family leave, child care, and workplace flexibility. Policies that promote continued employment of mothers working in health care professions is one strategy that, in combination with other reforms, would help to address the shortage of health care providers and help advance access to care and quality.
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