The COVID-19 pandemic—and resulting upheaval in public education—has undermined decades of feminist gains in the United States workforce, research finds.

The research, forthcoming in Gender & Society, draws on new data from the Elementary School Operating Status (ESOS) database to show that the gender gap between mothers and fathers in the labor force has grown significantly since the onset of the pandemic in states where schools primarily offered remote instruction.

And if these circumstances continue, it could deliver a long-lasting blow to mothers’ lifetime earnings and occupational trajectories.

At the start of the 2019-20 school year, US mothers’ rate of labor participation was, on average, 18 percentage points less than fathers’. By last September, the gap grew to over 23 percentage points in states where schools primarily offered remote instruction. In comparison, in states where in-person instruction was most common, the gender gap in parents’ labor force participation grew by less than 1 percentage point, to 18.4%.

“Our research shows schools are a vital source of care for young children, and without full-time, in-person instruction, mothers have been sidelined from the labor force,” says Caitlyn Collins, assistant professor of sociology at Washington University in St. Louis and coauthor of the study.

“The longer these conditions remain in place, the more difficult it may be for mothers to fully recover from prolonged spells of non-employment, resulting in reduced occupational opportunities and lifetime earnings.”

Read the full article about COVID-19 pushing moms out of the workforce by Sara Savat at Futurity.