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COVID-19 and school availability: impact on parental labour supply and well-being

Researchers: Birgitta Rabe | Claire Crawford ...

Project overview


School closures have been an important feature of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. They have a high direct cost to children, disrupting learning and impacting mental health, but they have affected parents too. This project will examine the impact of school availability and attendance on parental labour supply, family finances and mental health.

The closures have put an extraordinary burden on families with school-age children, who have lost at least 30 hours a week of childcare per child. This has been exacerbated by the unavailability of other childcare and an expectation that parents should home-school their children. Government guidance on school reopening created differential access to childcare for parents with children in different year groups, with schools initially opening for primary years R, 1 and 6 in June 2020. However, not all schools reopened, and not all parents took up available places. This meant that some parents no longer had to provide childcare during school hours, while other parents with children of similar age still had to do so.

This project will assess the impact of both children’s eligibility for and actual attendance at school on parents’ work, family finance and mental health outcomes and will provide insights into the extent to which the increasing gender inequalities seen during lockdown might reverse when children return to school. The researchers will also explore the responses of schools and parents to the guidance, providing insights into which schools and parents were most likely to comply.

The study will use the Understanding Society (UKHLS) COVID-19 survey, a monthly survey of 17,000 participants of the main UKHLS survey, that includes responses from the parents of 4,000 children. It contains measures of labour market status (working, hours worked, working from home, furloughed), earnings, mental health, the perceived financial situation of the family and whether they are up to date with bills and housing payments. By linking this data with existing UKHLS data, the researchers can obtain rich longitudinal background information on all respondents. This will be supplemented with data from the Labour Force Survey (LFS), which collects information on a nationally representative sample of around 36,000 households every quarter for up to 5 quarters, and contains rich information on labour supply and earnings, as well as some information on mental and physical health Since it is not possible to identify which children returned to school in the LFS, the team will supplement the data with information from the Department for Education on school openings and attendance.

Using longitudinal data will enable the researchers to look at changes in outcomes over time. They will use data from individuals interviewed before and during lockdown and repeat analysis into the winter months as more data becomes available, enabling them to look at the effect of school eligibility and attendance in the short term and the slightly longer term (up to 9 months). They will investigate the impact of school reopening on future employment and earnings, testing the hypothesis that parents – especially mothers – who experience longer labour market disruptions face a longer-term labour market penalty.

They will use a difference-in-differences approach to compare changes in outcomes amongst parents with children who are eligible to return to school with changes in outcomes amongst parents with similar-aged children who are not eligible. As parents with different characteristics are likely to make different decisions about their children’s return to school, school reopening is likely to have different effects on different parents, so the study will consider heterogeneity by family size and structure (including single parent households), family work circumstances (furlough, key workers and working from home) and attitudes to gender roles.

This research will provide timely and important insights into the likely consequences of any future school closures or reductions in capacity, including the possibility of longer-term effects on employment and family well-being for parents, especially mothers.

Team


  • Birgitta Rabe
    University of Essex
  • Claire Crawford
    University of Birmingham
  • Jo Blanden
    University of Surrey
  • Laura Fumagalli
    University of Essex

  • Alex Beer
    Senior Consultant, Welfare
    Nuffield Foundation

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