This mother’s day is my first as a new mother. I am now joining people who have long expressed the challenges of the balance between motherhood and career. This challenge increased significantly during the pandemic, when women took steps back in their careers because there were fewer opportunities to care for children. It persists in a post-pandemic world where women’s labor force lags behind its male counterpart and is one percentage point lower than before the pandemic.

Some consider the benefits of parental leave to be the best solution. But every mother knows that the challenge does not end abruptly when maternity leave expires. The other consideration is access to affordable childcare options, but even that doesn’t complete the planning puzzle. For many mothers, for example, day care hours may be incompatible with their working hours. This is where flexible working arrangements can be transformative. Giving the mother work autonomy in schedule and location improves her chances of participating in the workforce and taking on job opportunities that might otherwise be unattainable.

Indeed, several decades of economic research have shown that women tend to choose jobs more flexibly, largely because they need to plan their working hours around childcare activities. The growth of intermittent, part-time and casual jobs has also contributed to the growth of women entering the workforce in the 1980s and 1990s.

More recently, the pandemic has disrupted the way we think about work. And while we are seeing some progress in specific industries implementing permanent home arrangements, this may ultimately be a short-lived revolution. Many workers have now been called back to the office and no real progress has been made in the transition from a strict 9 to 5 working day.

Not surprisingly, women are once again turning to independent work – often called “self-employment” or “economic work” – precisely because flexibility is a key feature. A mother running an Etsy store can work from home and has more freedom to choose when and how often to work.

This is in line with recent data showing an influx of women as independent performers. Although still more common among men, two different surveys using official tax data show that participation has increased significantly more among women since 2001 – even at a time when women’s overall employment remains relatively unchanged. In one of these studies, the authors suggest that the long-term growth of the independent workforce “may not be due solely to extra income or the rise of several online platforms, but may be a structural change in the labor market, especially for women. “

Women also account for a larger proportion of independent workers in non-transport industries, such as e-commerce platforms or childcare and lesson platforms, or among professional freelancers in professions such as translators, nutritionists and proofreaders.

Evidence from the pre-pandemic study shows that flexibility has indeed been a major motivator for women’s accession to the independent workforce. After the pandemic, flexibility remains a key issue. A study by the Brookings Institution in early 2002 found that among the unemployed respondents looking for work, the number one problem in the labor market is flexibility in work schedules to meet the responsibilities of caring for addicts.

Of course, there are shortcomings in flexible working arrangements that can hinder participation. Workers do not have access to benefits provided to officials, which has led to political battles in the states and at the federal level. However, these tensions arise because our system prioritizes the immobility of benefits – such as single-employer healthcare – in a world where workers’ preferences, especially among women, have shifted and give more value to choice and portability. .

To better meet the needs of working mothers, we need to have flexible benefits for a flexible workforce. Maternity leave can be linked to an individual worker – such as an IRA or HSA account – instead of one specific employer. Calls for the extension of maternity benefits for employees neglect to acknowledge that many working mothers are giving up work precisely because the agreement is inflexible and tends to be less adaptable to women with childcare responsibilities.

In gratitude to working mothers on this Mother’s Day, we must welcome the structural changes in labor markets that increase their employment opportunities, promote the growth of the independent sector and redesign the benefits to be more portable for the worker.

Leah Palagashvili is a senior fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University and co-author of the study “Women as Independents in the Concert Economics.” © 2022 Tribune Content Agency.

Opinion: A real Mother’s Day gift? Flexible jobs and flexible benefits

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