UCL News


Hours worked dropped by 40% in lockdown

30 July 2020

The number of hours worked in Britain dropped significantly in lockdown, with mothers most likely to sacrifice work for home schooling and developmental play, according to new research from the UCL Centre for Longitudinal Studies (CLS).

Mother putting a face mask on her son

Two briefing papers, published today by CLS, use new data from a survey of over 18,000 people who take part in UCL’s cohort studies to analyse work, finances and parenting among four generations who were born in 1958, 1970, 1989-90, and 2000-02.

The researchers found that the average hours worked had decreased by around 40% when combining those who had stopped working completely with those who took on reduced hours. For example, among those age 19, hours reduced from an average of 25 to 10 per week across the cohort as a whole, and for those age 30, hours dropped from 34 to 22 hours.

As the coronavirus pandemic closed schools and nurseries across the UK, it was mothers, especially those of young children, who were most likely to have stopped work, and to have stepped in to provide educational support for their children.

Participants of the study, who are all taking part in nationally representative longitudinal studies that have been following them since their childhoods, completed surveys during May 2020 and were asked to complete a web survey about their experiences since the coronavirus outbreak, including questions on their employment, daily activities and family life.

Educational activities among mothers and fathers

This is the first study to have captured parents’ time on both home schooling and other developmental activities with children during the lockdown, such as reading to them, playing games, painting and drawing, and doing puzzles together.

The study found that among parents of school age children (age 5-16) in the survey, 58% reported doing home schooling on a typical day, with 64% of mothers and 49% of fathers taking educational responsibilities. Among parents of primary school aged children, mothers were spending, on average, five hours per day home schooling, while fathers spent, on average, two hours each day.

On top of this, mothers of school age children were spending almost 3.5 hours on developmental activities with their primary aged children on a typical day, compared to just under two hours for fathers.

Parents at age 30 with younger children (below age 5) were especially busy interacting with them. Mothers were spending on average 6.2 hours a day doing interactive activities with their young children, compared to an average of three hours among fathers.

These differences between mothers and fathers in responsibility for children were also reflected in stopping work. Mothers, especially those with children of primary school age or younger, were considerably more likely than fathers of children at the same age, to have stopped work.

Employment and finances

The survey also found that across all groups, nearly 30% of people reported being financially worse off since the start of the pandemic. However, the short-term financial effects were not negative across the board, as reduced opportunities for expenditure, including on commuting and childcare, also lowered the cost of living and thereby improved the financial position of others.

Changes to work were the main driver of families reporting they had become worse off. By the end of May, 84% of workers in paid employment who had stopped working were on the government-supported ‘furlough’ scheme. In contrast, only 27-35% of those self-employed who had stopped working had claimed support from the self-employment income support scheme.

Compared to employees, self-employed workers have therefore experienced harsher financial impacts from the lockdown restrictions. Among 30-year-olds, 70% of those self-employed said they were worse off, compared to only 29% of those who were employed.

Key workers have mostly been protected from any economic shocks, with only 10-20% becoming worse off across all four groups.

Young workers were especially affected by the lockdown. Among men in their late teens who had been working, 62% stopped work completely in the lockdown, more than among the older generations – 44% of those in their early sixties, 33% of those aged 30 and 30% of those aged 50. There was a broad balance between those reporting that they had become worse off among the 19-year-olds in the survey, compared to those who had become better off. Despite employment losses, many in this age group were students who moved back in with their parents, potentially cutting their rental bills.

Widening inequalities

The study highlights that lockdown restrictions are likely to have worsened prior economic inequalities. The authors note that across all generations, those who reported that they were struggling before lockdown were most likely to say they were worse off. Those who reported they were living comfortably before were most likely to report having become better off. People with lower levels of education, and those who had been claiming benefits before lockdown, were also more likely to be worse off financially, compared to those with more education, or who had not been claiming benefits.

There have also been inequalities in terms of educational resources available in the home. Better educated parents and those who stopped working have been more likely to spend time on home schooling, with 63% of graduate parents home schooling their primary school age children, compared to 49% with lower levels of education. Parents who continued to work through the lockdown, spent 1.2 fewer hours on home schooling per day compared to parents who were not working.

Co-author, Professor Francis Green, (UCL Institute of Education), said: “Our survey unveiled an extraordinary 40% loss in hours worked during lockdown, across four age cohorts. The worst effects have been avoided for many families by the government’s furlough scheme, and some have saved on commuting and leisure expenses. But those who were struggling before the pandemic were most likely to have come into greater difficulties. With relief schemes being tapered off in August and September, the future for families’ finances is about to become very precarious.”

Co-author, Professor Emla Fitzsimons, (UCL Institute of Education), said: “Many mothers who have put their careers on hold to provide educational support for their children will need to adjust again once schools reopen and the furlough scheme tapers off.

“And with educational inequalities between advantaged and disadvantaged children potentially growing during this period, policymakers and practitioners will have to be vigilant to ensure that those who have suffered the most learning losses are well supported when schools return.”



  • ‘Mother putting a face mask on her son’, Credit: August de Richelieu on Pexels. CC BY 2.0

Media Contact

Rowan Walker

Tel: +44 (0)20 3108 8515

Email: rowan.walker [at] ucl.ac.uk