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Does Work from Home Benefit Working Mothers?


In their October 2023 University of Virginia working paper titled “Has the Rise of Work-from-Home Reduced the Motherhood Penalty in the Labor Market?”, Emma Harrington and Matthew E. Kahn explore the potential impact of work-from-home (WFH) arrangements on the “motherhood penalty” phenomenon.


GS2- Role of Women

  • Issues Related to Women
  • Gender


  • Employment
  • Issues Relating to Development

Mains Question:

With reference to the changing nature of work across its various aspects, discuss how can Work from Home opportunities for women enhance their labour force participation. What are the associated challenges and solutions in this regard? (15 Marks, 250 Words).

Female Labor Force Participation:

  • As per the World Bank, the global labor force participation rate among women stands slightly above 50%, whereas it reaches 80% for men.
  • Women are less inclined to engage in formal employment and encounter fewer prospects for expanding businesses or advancing in their careers.

Motherhood Penalty:

  • This penalty refers to the tendency for a significant number of working women to leave the workforce after becoming pregnant, prioritizing family responsibilities.
  • Historically, the motherhood penalty has contributed to women’s lower labor force participation rates across many countries.
  • It is particularly pronounced in professions like finance, known for their rigid and less family-friendly work environments.

More on the Study Conducted:

  • Harrington and Kahn investigate whether WFH arrangements, which offer greater flexibility, could mitigate the motherhood penalty by enabling mothers to effectively balance work and family commitments.
  • The researchers examined the impact of work-from-home (WFH) setups over the decade preceding the pandemic on the workforce participation of mothers across various fields.
  • Their findings revealed that in sectors like finance and marketing, which historically lack family-friendly policies but where remote work is feasible, there was a relative increase in the employment of mothers compared to other women when WFH options expanded.
  • Specifically, the researchers noted that a 10% increase in WFH arrangements correlated with a 0.78 percentage point uptick in the employment of mothers in these fields compared to other women.
  • Conversely, similar positive effects were not observed in fields like education and pharmacy, known for their family-friendly environments and where physical presence in the workplace is often deemed essential.
  • The researchers suggest that WFH arrangements have the potential to facilitate the retention of more women, and potentially men, in the workforce by offering increased work flexibility and better work-life balance.
  • During the pandemic, work-from-home (WFH) arrangements became widely adopted as employers faced challenges in compelling their employees to come into the office due to lockdowns.
  • Importantly, WFH also allowed many employers to realize cost savings on rent and other expenses associated with traditional office spaces, thereby bolstering their financial performance.
  • The concept of co-working spaces gained popularity as businesses recognized the potential to pay for space based on actual usage rather than investing in large office premises.


However, since the pandemic’s conclusion, many employers have increasingly encouraged their employees to return to the office. Some researchers speculate that corporate executives’ push for a return to the office may not necessarily be aimed at enhancing worker productivity but rather at asserting control over their workforce.

May 2024