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Did you know that societal attitudes towards working mothers had an influence on how long schools remained closed during the Covid-19 pandemic?

December 2020

At the beginning of the first Covid-19 wave in spring, schools were closed in almost all countries and by April, up to 90% of students worldwide were affected. School closures impair not only children but also parents. Especially if smaller children are not supervised at school, parents can only work to a limited extent or not at all. In the majority of cases, mothers take over the largest part of the additional care tasks. Apart from the children themselves, working mothers are therefore particularly affected by school closures.

In countries where more people think it is ideal if mothers work little or not at all and focus on caring for their children, longer school closures and the extra care tasks for parents, and especially mothers, are probably perceived to be less problematic. Building on this, ISS researcher Ansgar Hudde and his colleague Natalie Nitsche from the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research ask: did societal attitudes towards maternal employment in a country influence how soon schools reopened after the initial lockdown? They analysed data from 35 countries. The study’s result shows that, at similar SARS Cov-19 infection rates and similar overall level of restrictions on public life, countries with more positive attitudes towards maternal employment opened schools sooner. Dividing the countries into two groups based on attitudes reveals a considerable difference: in the countries with more positive attitudes towards working mothers, children typically returned to the classroom about four weeks earlier. The research team carried out numerous additional analyses and model extensions, which demonstrate that the results are robust.

In many places, SARS Cov-19 case numbers are very high again, and more and more countries, such as Austria, Italy and Poland, are responding with repeated school closures. School closures may be a tempting measure – quick to implement and without immediate economic costs – but the longer-term consequences for pupils, families and mothers are far-reaching. A better understanding of the factors that determine such policy measures can contribute to a public discourse on which areas - business, leisure, culture and education - should be given what priority when it comes to imposing and releasing restrictions on public life.