The pandemic’s effect on parents

Working from home with kids

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The early days of lockdown featured competing narratives of parental and family wellbeing.

Parents were juggling with homeschooling or relieved to no longer face the daily commute.

The data and case studies reported in the media were largely from internet surveys that were not nationally representative. There was little data from before the pandemic to benchmark any change in wellbeing.

Childcare and family wellbeing

The Childcare and Wellbeing in Times of COVID-19 project was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and is led by the University of Edinburgh.

The project will provide an evidence base on how the pandemic has affected childcare and wellbeing and develop a policy toolkit.

Dr Ingela Naumann, who is leading the research, said:

The closure of schools and childcare services created a national childcare crisis with potentially severe effects on families’ livelihoods and wellbeing.

This could be particularly challenging for families in vulnerable circumstances. Since COVID-19 and its impacts are likely to be persistent, we urgently need crisis-resilient solutions. This should encompass high-quality childcare provision that reaches all families to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 or future pandemics.

Mothers suffer decline in wellbeing

The team analysed nationally representative and longitudinal surveys like the ESRC-supported Understanding Society to examine the pandemic’s effect on parental wellbeing.

Dr Alan Marshall said:

Our model suggests that mothers were most likely to experience a sharp decline in their mental health by July 2020.

The Next Steps cohort – a longitudinal study of around 16,000 people in England born in 1990 – revealed that more than half of mothers felt more stressed during the pandemic, compared to one in three fathers.

Find out more about the Next Steps study (Centre for Longitudinal Studies website).

Social class – new and emerging impact

Our analysis of the Next Steps data also suggested negligible evidence for occupational measures of social class as a determinant of a sharp decline in mental health.

A similar pattern is also seen in other analysis of Understanding Society data from the first lockdown where income was not associated with a change in general health questionnaire score.

Read the COVID-19 mental health study (The Lancet website).

It is possible that the first lockdown exposed new forms of social inequality along new indicators such as access to green space, housing conditions and digital connectivity.

Marshall concluded:

It is important to remember that this data is from the early stages of the pandemic in the UK, and we anticipate that a different picture, particularly around social class and changes to mental health, could emerge as the pandemic continues.

Childcare and Wellbeing in times of COVID-19 will continue to report on more recent data as it is released. Stay up to date on the Childcare and Wellbeing in times of COVID-19 website.

Last updated: 8 June 2021

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