Workplace Benefits and Family Health Care Responsibilities: Key Findings from the 2022 KFF Women’s Health Survey
- Less than half of women report that their employer offers paid parental leave such as maternity or paternity leave (43%) or paid family and medical leave which can also be used to take time off to care for a seriously ill family member (44%). A considerably higher share, nearly two-thirds, of women say that their employer offers them paid sick leave (63%). Just 7% of women work for an employer that offers on-site childcare or a childcare subsidy. These estimates are consistently lower for women who work part-time, are self-employed, are low-income, or live in rural areas.
- Among employed parents, more than half of mothers (56%) report they are the ones to care for children when they are sick and cannot attend school, compared to about a fifth of fathers (19%). A substantial share of mothers (24%) and fathers (33%) say they share responsibility with a spouse, partner, or co-parent.
- Compared to 2020, there has been an increase in the share of men reporting that they are usually the ones to care for children when they are sick and cannot attend school, but this activity is still largely done by mothers.
- About half of working parents say they are not paid when they take time off to care for sick kids. Three-quarters (76%) of working mothers with low incomes (below 200% of the federal poverty level) report losing pay when they miss work to care for sick children which is twice the share of those with higher incomes (38%).
The persistent challenges that working mothers face in balancing family and work responsibilities were intensified by the COVID pandemic, which exposed the gaps in resources to address the rise in family caregiving needs, a shift to homeschooling, and the dearth of childcare options. While children are now back in the classroom and many workers have returned to offices, the pandemic has left its mark on the challenge of balancing family and workplace responsibilities, particularly for working mothers. For many working women, economic security is strongly connected to workplace benefits such as insurance coverage, paid sick leave, and paid family leave as well as their roles as mothers and the primary managers of their children’s health care.
The 2022 KFF Women’s Health Survey (KWHS) is a nationally representative survey of 5,145 women and 1,225 men ages 18-64 conducted from May 10, 2022, to June 7, 2022. Among several topics related to women’s health and well-being, we asked respondents about employment and family health care needs. This brief highlights how workplace benefits and caring for children’s health care differ by gender and among different subpopulations of women. Data presented in this brief are based on survey respondents’ self-identified gender as “woman” or “man.” We recognize that this approach excludes people who do not identify with either of these categories. We do not have sufficient survey sample size to report on people who are not cisgender. See the Methodology section for more details.
Access to Workplace Benefits
Fewer than half of employed women say their employer offers paid parental leave or paid family and medical leave. So-called “fringe benefits” such as paid leave offer financial security to workers who must balance their personal and family care needs with their work responsibilities. However, just 43% of employed women ages 18-64 say their employer offers paid parental leave and 44% say their employer offers paid family and medical leave. Many more employed women (63%) report that their employer offers paid sick leave (Figure 1).
Fewer than one in ten employed women say their employer offers on-site childcare or a childcare subsidy. As some employers seek to provide more “family-friendly” workplaces, some now offer on-site childcare for workers’ children or subsidies to workers to pay for childcare at another location. This type of benefit may help ease the transition back to work for new parents, reduce the need for extensive commuting, and provide financial support for a service that is consuming an increasing share of workers’ paychecks. However, few (7%) employed women report that their employer offers on-site childcare or a childcare subsidy (Figure 1).
Some women do not know whether their employer offers paid leave and childcare benefits. Benefits are an important component of a worker’s total compensation package, but some women do not know if their employer offers paid parental leave (18%) or paid family and medical leave (17%) (Figure 1). Knowledge of sick leave benefits is higher, with just 7% of women saying they don’t know if their employer offers this benefit. Eleven percent do not know if their employer offers on-site childcare or a childcare subsidy. Women who are employed but don’t have kids at home are more likely than those who have kids to say they don’t know if their employer offers paid family and medical leave (19% vs. 14%, respectively), paid parental leave (22% vs. 12%), and on-site childcare or a childcare subsidy (13% vs. 7%) (data not shown).
Access to these workplace benefits varies widely by employment status, income, geographic location, and educational attainment. Women who work full-time, are not self-employed, and have higher incomes are more likely than their counterparts to say their employer offers any of these paid leave or childcare benefits (Table 1).
For example, approximately seven in ten women who are employed full-time (73%) and women who are not self-employed (69%) report that their employer offers paid sick leave compared to three in ten (31%) who work part-time and about two in ten (18%) who are self-employed. Half of higher-income (>= 200% FPL) employed women (49%) say their employer offers paid family and medical leave compared to one-third (33%) of women who are low-income (< 200% FPL). Employed women with a college degree (52%) are more likely than those with lower educational attainment (36%) to report working for an employer that offers paid parental leave. Four percent of employed women in rural locations work for an employer offering on-site childcare or a childcare subsidy compared to 7% of employed women in urban and suburban areas. Overall, there are fewer differences by race and ethnicity, but a slightly higher share of Black women reported working for an employer that offers paid family and medical leave or paid parental leave.
Impact of Children’s Health Needs on Working Parents
Among working parents, a higher share of mothers than fathers report they are the ones that care for children when they are too sick to attend school. Workplace benefits play an important role in parents’ ability to care for their family’s health care needs while meeting workplace responsibilities. When children have to miss school because they are too sick to attend, working parents must arrange care for their children. Among mothers who work outside the home, over half (56%) say they are the ones who usually take care of children who are sick and cannot go to school, about three times the share of working fathers (19%) (Figure 2). A quarter (24%) of working mothers and one-third of working fathers (33%) say they share this responsibility equally with a spouse, partner, or co-parent. Just 6% of working mothers say their spouse, partner, or co-parent usually takes on this responsibility, whereas this is the most common response among fathers (41%), nearly seven times the rate of mothers. Roughly one in ten mothers (13%) and fathers (8%) say they can call someone else for childcare or their child can stay home alone.
About half of working parents report losing pay when they miss work to care for sick children who can’t go to school. When parents miss work to take care of their sick children, 53% of mothers and 49% of fathers say they are not paid for that time (Figure 3). This has a disproportionate impact on mothers, as they are more likely to be the ones caring for children when they are sick. Considering that nearly 15% of children missed more than a week of school per year due to illness or injury before the pandemic and that the CDC recommends that people stay home for at least five days if testing positive for COVID-1, when children miss school because they are sick, it can have tangible negative economic implications for many working parents, particularly women.
Mothers who have low incomes are more likely than those with higher incomes to report they usually care for children who are sick and cannot attend school as well as lose pay for this time. A larger share of mothers with low incomes (61%) say they are the ones who usually care for children when they are sick compared to mothers with higher incomes (53%) (Figure 4). Working mothers with low incomes are also less likely to report sharing the responsibility with a spouse or partner. Additionally, 76% of mothers with low incomes report losing pay when they miss work to care for sick children, twice the share of those with higher incomes (38%). As discussed earlier, fewer women who have low incomes have a paid sick leave benefit than those who have higher incomes.
Across demographic groups, the majority of employed mothers report that they are usually the ones to take care of kids when they are sick and cannot go to school, and some share this work with a spouse/partner. However, there are differences between groups of women workers in the economic impact of missing work to care for sick kids. A higher share of working mothers who are Black, single, or work part-time report losing pay for this time off (Figure 5). Three-quarters of part-time workers are not paid when they take time off to care for sick kids, compared to 44% of full-time workers.
Since 2020, the share of fathers who say they are the ones who usually care for children when they are sick and cannot attend school has risen. While mothers are much more likely to report that they are the ones who care for young children when they are sick and cannot go to school, the share of fathers who say they are usually the ones to do so has risen in the past two years. In 2022, 19% of fathers say that they usually cared for children when they are too sick to go to school, up from 9% in 2020 (Figure 6). Among mothers however, these rates remained similar between 2020 and 2022 (61% and 56% respectively). The pandemic and the impact of the spread of COVID-19 continues to keep some children out of school and has also changed many employment patterns and workplace dynamics. Many more people work from home at least some of the time, which may have also changed the distribution of childcare responsibilities in some families, with more fathers spending more time at home.
Women comprise at least half of the nation’s workforce, and roughly seven in ten women with children under the age of 18 are in the labor force, yet the United States remains one of the few industrialized nations that does not require paid leave for health-related events including paid parental leave and sick leave. For many women, taking even a month of unpaid leave after childbirth is unaffordable and unattainable. Gaps in these benefits are larger among women who are lower income and those who work part-time.
Absent federal legislation, guaranteed paid leave (including paid sick, family and medical, and parental leave) is at the discretion of the states. In states that do not have paid leave programs or requirements, some employers offer it voluntarily, but workers who could most benefit from it are less likely to be offered these benefits.
Among parents, women continue to be the primary caregivers when their children are sick, and the pandemic has made this issue top of mind for many parents. Some employed mothers share the responsibility of caring for their sick children with their partners, and notably, in the past two years, there has been an increase in the share of fathers who say they usually take care of sick kids who cannot go to school. However, it is still working moms who carry this responsibility in many families. The increase in people working from home since the pandemic’s start could have contributed to a change in the distribution of parental health care responsibilities, but it is too early to tell whether this trend will continue in the years to come.
For many working parents who lack paid leave benefits, caring for kids because they are sick and cannot go to school comes with an economic cost, and many of these costs are borne by working women. For some women, the system is largely working though is still challenging, but for those who are in low-wage jobs or work part-time hours, caring for their family’s health without workplace supports can weaken their own and their family’s financial well-being.