Before the Covid-19 pandemic, over 25 percent of workers aged 18 to 64 had children under 14 years old. Seventy percent, or nearly 24 million, of those workers did not have caregivers and relied on childcare programs and schools (Bateman, 2020). The Census Bureau found that one in five adults claimed they were not working because the pandemic disrupted their childcare arrangements (Heggeness & Fields, 2020). For the 25-44 age group, women were nearly three times as likely as men to not be working due to childcare demands.
Research has examined the effects of unemployment. One study looked at parents who choose unemployment to care for their children (Weisshaar, 2018). It was found that choosing to opt out of employment has negative effects on parents when they want to reenter the workforce.
In a research literature review, traditional job search documents, such as a chronological resume and basic cover letter, were favored by employers (Risavy, 2017). However, the studies mostly involved college graduates and were outdated, especially now that the pandemic has significantly affected employment.
Further research needs to explore whether a combination resume paired with a job match cover letter (Minnesota State Careerwise, n.d.) could change the negative effects. This article summarizes the research to increase awareness to employers and career practitioners of the negative opt out effects. It also offers a practical suggestion to help parents potentially overcome these negative effects.
Penalties for Opting Out
In a multiphase study, Weisshaar (2018) first found that resumes and cover letters which signaled a parent applicant who chose to opt out of the workforce for childcare were rated lower than a continuously employed parent applicant. These ratings were lower on all four perception measurements of commitment, capability, deservingness, and reliability. Weisshaar also discovered that opt out fathers were rated more negatively than opt out mothers on the measurements of commitment and reliability. She considered this the fatherhood penalty and theorized fathers have a greater penalty for violating the ideal worker norms than mothers.
In the next phase, Weisshaar (2018) discovered that resumes and cover letters which signaled an opt out parent applicant had lower callback rates for interviews than continuously employed parent applicants. The controlled variables were that applicants had the same years of previous work experience, a bachelor degree, and signaled having children. Continuously employed mothers and fathers received 15.3 percent and 14.6 percent callback rates, respectively, whereas opt out mothers and fathers received 4.9 percent and 5.4 percent callback rates, respectively. This negative effect was nearly three times for opt out parents with no significant gender differences.
In the last phase, Weisshaar (2018) accounted for the labor market context in the 50 metropolitan areas the resumes and cover letters were sent. In competitive labor markets with high job-seeker rates, employed fathers had a 15.7 percent callback rate whereas employed mothers had 7.9 percent. This indicated a motherhood penalty. Opt out fathers in competitive labor markets had a 2.5 percent callback rate compared to 7.2 percent in less competitive labor markets. For opt out mothers, the callback rate remained low across the labor market context suggesting employers are not interested in opt out mothers. However, in competitive labor markets, opt out mothers received a higher callback rate than opt out fathers which again revealed a fatherhood penalty.
Weisshaar (2018) concluded from the multiphase study that violating ideal worker norms by parent applicants opting out of employment for childcare has a strong negative signal. One suggestion for further study related to the resume and cover letter and how to signal information on these documents that will not produce negative effects.
Changing the Format of the Job Search Documents
Risavy (2017) reviewed the resume and cover letter research literature. Although it was found that traditional formats for these job search documents were preferred by employers, Risavy acknowledged that the research is dated and often examined with college graduates who have little work experience. There were suggestions for further study related to resumes and cover letters, including changing the format. Risavy found that chronological resume format versus functional and creative formats were preferred by employers. However, there were no known studies in the literature that evaluated the combination resume. Similarly, there were no known studies that examined the job match cover letter.
Combination resumes blend the flexibility and strength of both the chronological and functional resumes (Minnesota State Careerwise, n.d.). The format provides the applicant a way to highlight transferable skills. The job match cover letter offers the same benefits. By taking information from a job description and displaying it in one column next to the information of similar work experience in the second column, it indicates capability. Career practitioners working with parents may be able to offer format suggestions to help parents potentially overcome any negative effects.
Overcoming the Negative Effects
Parents who choose to opt out of employment for childcare are faced with negative effects when wanting to rejoin the workforce. There are motherhood and fatherhood penalties that suggest ideal worker norms prevent caretaker parents from reaching their career goals of reentering employment. To aid parents who were forced to opt out of employment during the Covid-19 pandemic, it is worth discovering if changing the format of the job search documents changes the negative opt out effects.
Bateman, N. (2020). Working parents are key to Covid-19 recovery. https://www.brookings.edu/research/working-parents-are-key-to-covid-19-recovery/
Heggeness, M. L., & Fields, J. M. (2020). Working moms bear brunt of home schooling while working during Covid-19. https://www.census.gov/library/stories/2020/08/parents-juggle-work-and-child-care-during-pandemic.html
Minnesota State Careerwise. (n.d.). Ready to explore the job market? https://careerwise.minnstate.edu/jobs/resumecharts.html
Risavy, S. D. (2017). The resume research literature: Where have we been and where should we go next? Journal of Educational and Developmental Psychology, 7(1), 169-187.
Weisshaar, K. (2018). From opt out to blocked out: The challenges for labor market re-entry after family-related employment lapses. American Sociological Review, 83(1), 34-60.
Gina Gridley, Ph.D. is a Licensed Professional Counselor with a doctorate in Adult and Organizational Learning from the University of Idaho. She has over 10 years of counseling experience working in school and private settings. She is credentialed as a Board Certified Telemental Health Provider and Global Career Development Facilitator. Gina is passionate about her children’s education and Basque culture. She has served as a board member in both organizations and successfully managed improvement projects and written grant proposals. Gina lives in beautiful Boise with her best friend husband, identical teenage daughters, and two Doodle dogs. She can be reached at linkedin.com/in/ginagridley