older woman with laptopOlivia Mitchell (Penn), Jennifer Glass (Texas), and Elizabeth Rose Mayeda (UCLA) discuss the long-term impact of the pandemic on U.S. women’s health and well-being in a Population Reference Bureau (PRB) blog, “U.S. Women, Work, and the COVID Pandemic: Myths and Realities.

Did the COVID-19 pandemic really spur a “SHE-session” in the United States? Did a large number of working mothers leave the labor force to provide child care? Will pandemic-driven upheavals in the labor market have long-term consequences for women’s financial well-being? We examined labor force data and checked in with demographers and economists who follow gender and labor force trends to answer some common questions and bust common myths.
One excerpt below:

The setbacks working women face during the pandemic are only short term. FALSE.

Olivia Mitchell, a University of Pennsylvania economist, pointed out in a recent interview with PRB a handful of ways that time out of the workforce negatively affects a woman’s financial well-being over her lifetime:

  • • Work-related skills may depreciate, she says, generating a lifetime of lower earnings as a result. “It’s better to work part-time than to completely leave the labor force, if possible.”
  • When you are not working for pay you tend to lose ties to your work-related social networks, making it more difficult to return later.
  • Time out of the labor force also means less time contributing to your retirement plan. “This can reduce one’s eventual pension substantially.”
  • Time out of the labor force also means fewer years contributing to Social Security, which also reduces your retirement payouts.
  • When you are not in the labor force you are not covered by Social Security Disability Insurance and could end up disabled and uninsured.


One estimate from the Center for American Progress suggests that over a lifetime, one year out of the labor force can cost a younger woman three to four times her annual salary when lost wages, wage growth, and retirement assets and benefits are considered, Mitchell notes.

“Insofar as women live longer and tend to retire earlier than men, they will need to build up a larger retirement nest egg in order to be financially secure in old age,” Mitchell argues. “Women need to work longer and save more, when possible, to meet this challenge.”

Jennifer Glass, a sociologist at the University of Texas at Austin, agrees with Mitchell. The consensus among scholars is that career breaks, particularly breaks of more than one year, are bad for women’s pay raises, advancement, and retirement savings, she says.

Glass is concerned that mothers who quit during the pandemic may have sent an invisible signal that they are less committed to their jobs and work than women who didn’t quit

“Not everyone left their jobs, and in the long run that may hurt those who did, although it is too soon to tell, and I don’t have a crystal ball,” she says.

“Secretly, most people believe that when push comes to shove working mothers will put their children first,” she explains. This widespread bias against mothers as workers—identified via survey research—hurts working mothers, Glass says.

Read the full blog post from PRB.