October 2021 (Revised July 2023)

Women's Labor Force Exits during COVID-19: Differences by Motherhood, Race, and Ethnicity

Katherine Lim and Mike Zabek


While the descriptive impacts of the pandemic on women have been well documented in the aggregate, we know much less about the impacts of the pandemic on different groups of women. After controlling for detailed job and demographic characteristics, including occupation and industry, we find that the pandemic led to significant excess labor force exits among women living with children under age six relative to women without children. We also find evidence of larger increases in exits among lower-earning women. The presence of children predicted larger increases in exits during the pandemic among Latina and Black women relative to White women. Overall, we find evidence that pandemic induced disruptions to childcare, including informal care from family and friends. Our results suggest that the unique effect of childcare disruptions during the pandemic exacerbated pre-existing racial and income inequalities among women.

Keywords: Women, Labor Force Participation, Race, Ethnicity, Labor Supply, COVID-19

DOI: https://doi.org/10.17016/FEDS.2021.067r1

PDF: Full Paper

Original Paper: PDF | Accessible materials (.zip)

Disclaimer: The economic research that is linked from this page represents the views of the authors and does not indicate concurrence either by other members of the Board's staff or by the Board of Governors. The economic research and their conclusions are often preliminary and are circulated to stimulate discussion and critical comment. The Board values having a staff that conducts research on a wide range of economic topics and that explores a diverse array of perspectives on those topics. The resulting conversations in academia, the economic policy community, and the broader public are important to sharpening our collective thinking.

Back to Top
Last Update: July 03, 2023