Today I’m celebrating Mother’s Day as a working mom of two young children—a toddler and a 5-month-old baby. It’s a rare chance when your personal life so closely connects to your research, and I feel it’s a privilege to both study and walk in the shoes of women who must navigate the challenges of balancing motherhood and a career.

Before becoming a mom, I witnessed this balancing act at its height during the pandemic, when school closures left women with far greater child care responsibilities, and many were forced to step back from their careers. But the post-pandemic labor market landscape is now taking a favorable turn for women: With more remote work opportunities and a greater variety of nontraditional work arrangements, such as freelancing and gig work, women are becoming the main beneficiaries of a flexible work revolution.

It’s no surprise that flexible job arrangements can make it easier for moms to juggle both parenting and their careers. And in fact, decades of economics research show that women tend to self-select jobs with greater flexibility, in large part because they need to schedule working hours around childcare activities. The expansion of intermittent, part-time and casual jobs also contributed to the growth of women entering the labor force throughout the 1980s and ‘90s.

Today, two key labor market developments are making the future of work brighter for women. First, employers are becoming increasingly more open to work-from-home arrangements. The share of remote job postings is up by 10% from just a year ago, and the share of remote work continues to be higher than it was pre-pandemic.

A recent study has underscored the value of these remote-work arrangements for women. Using data from U.S. household surveys and time-diaries to assess the prevalence of remote work, the authors found that in fields where the opportunity to work remotely increased, so too did the employment rates of mothers, compared to women without children. In particular, their study found that, on average, a 10% increase in the availability of work-from-home options is associated with about a 1% increase in a mother’s employment relative to that of other women. This effect is particularly pronounced in traditionally less family-friendly fields, such as finance. No analogous effect of remote-work arrangements was found for men.

Second, while work-from-home arrangements are increasing in traditional workplaces, the growth in nontraditional work, such as freelancing, gig work or self-employment, is providing another foundational avenue for working moms. Today, almost 60 million Americans engage in these forms of work, which often offer greater autonomy and flexibility than traditional employment arrangements do.

Indeed, a recent study shows that self-employment rates are higher for women who have young children and that self-employed female workers seem to have more flexibility in their work location, hours and schedule than women in traditional employment. Mothers with young children at home use self-employment opportunities to spend an additional two hours per day with their children. The study concludes that overall, these independent and self-employed work opportunities give mothers “more control over their work environment allowing them to better manage their household while working.”

At the same time, IRS tax data also indicate that female “independent contractors” are more likely to have children than are female “employees.” And a 2023 survey highlights the growing share of women switching from traditional full-time employment to independent work opportunities, mainly because they prefer to work from home and want more flexibility in their schedules.

Some women seem to be working on gig platforms such as UberEats and DoorDash, while others are setting up online shops with Etsy (year after year, more than 85% of Etsy shop owners are women) or engaging in professional, technical or creative services through online platforms such as Fiverr and Upwork. One study found that when the transportation sector is omitted entirely, women make up a greater share of income earners than men on digital platforms (which includes leasing, selling and nontransportation services in addition to the omitted “transportation services” category). Among all four categories, the largest fraction of female digital earners is in selling.

In today’s economy, both the rise in flexible arrangements offered through traditional employment and the rise of remote jobs through nontraditional work arrangements are likely contributing to the new highs we are seeing with the women’s labor force participation rate. According to a Brookings Institution study, since February 2023, the labor force participation rate for prime-age women—those between the ages of 25 and 54—has exceeded its all-time high. What’s more, the percentage of women in the workforce with young children is significantly higher than it has ever been.

To fully reap the advantages of the greater availability of independent work arrangements, however, our labor policies will have to address some structural challenges. Many decades ago, our tax policies and labor regulations were written in a way to tie fringe benefits—such as health insurance, retirement benefits and parental leave—to a standard employment arrangement and to discourage the flow of these benefits to independent and self-employed work. These policies are now creating an uncomfortable challenge for mothers, who must often choose between an inflexible employment job that comes with fringe benefits or a flexible, independent job that comes without benefits.

To address these challenges, state and federal policymakers have made attempts to reclassify independent work opportunities into traditional employment jobs, such as California’s Assembly Bill 5 (AB5) in 2019 and the recent Department of Labor independent contractor rule. But since independent work provides flexibility and extends opportunities to women who may be unable to take on traditional employment, these policies can disproportionately hinder women’s job prospects. Not only that, but California’s AB5 was associated with a decline in self-employment and overall employment for affected occupations, without an accompanying increase in traditional W-2 employment.

But this does not have to be the case. To better meet the needs of working moms, policymakers can implement reforms to enable flexible or portable benefits, which tie fringe benefits to an individual worker rather than to one particular employer. Policymakers are already starting to pay attention to these ideas, and small but crucial portable-benefits pilot programs are emerging in states such as Utah and Pennsylvania.

This Mother’s Day, let’s envision a labor market that will encourage even greater growth in flexible work arrangements to better support women in the workplace.


What I’m listening to on Audible: I’ve always been an “I need to read the physical book” kind of person, but since the birth of my second child, I’ve discovered Audible is a great way to “read” while going on walks with the new baby. I’m listening to three different books, jumping among them depending on what I’m in the mood for. First, I’m enjoying Simone Davies’ “The Montessori Toddler,” which explains a parenting style that emphasizes hands-on learning, simplicity of activities and toys, and how to tap into children’s inner curiosity and (importantly) how to garner their cooperation for everyday things.

I’m also rereading one of my favorite books, “Man’s Search for Meaning,” which is Viktor Frankl’s account of his life as a prisoner in a concentration camp. Frankl tells the story of how he found meaning and gratitude—the keys to his survival in the camp—even in the darkest moments of his life.

Lastly, I’m reading John List’s “The Voltage Effect,” which provides a framework and guidelines for thinking through how some ideas—whether in the realm of business or policy—can take off and grow. The book also warns about potential “voltage drops” that can lead a theoretically good idea to fall apart. John List has a unique perspective as a prominent academic economist who also has extensive experiences in business: He’s the former chief economist for both Uber and Lyft and now holds that position at Walmart.


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