Working mothers during COVID-19: a cross-sectional study on mental health status and associations with the receipt of employment benefits

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date



BMC Public Health








COVID-19; Employment benefits; Family friendly benefits; Kessler 6 Psychological Distress Scale (K6); Mental health; Short Warwick Edinburgh Mental Well-being Scale (SWEMWBS); Working mothers


Background: Beyond the sweeping physiological effects of COVID-19 infections in 2020 and 2021, the psychosocial impacts of lockdowns, social distancing, and the associated disruptions to daily life have brought on a simultaneous mental health crisis, particularly among many working mothers who are disproportionately balancing childcare, virtual schooling, and employment vulnerability. The aim of this study was to measure the mental health status of working mothers in the United States and associations with the provision of family-friendly employment benefits one year into the pandemic. Methods: Cross-sectional data were collected from a sample of working mothers in the U.S. using an online survey of mental health status and the receipt of employer-provided family-friendly benefits. Mental health was measured with the Kessler 6 (K-6) and the Short Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale (SWEMWBS). Perceived helpfulness of benefits was assessed through self-reported Likert-scale scores of 0 (not at all helpful) to 4 (extremely helpful) to determine mean helpfulness scores for benefit types. Multivariable logistic regression analyses were conducted to determine associations between receipt of employment benefits and serious mental illness (SMI). Results: A total of 728 participants met the study criteria, 83.7% were non-Hispanic/Latino white and 61.1% were 35–44 years of age. Among study participants, 54.3% (n = 395) and 21.8% (n = 159) reported psychological distress levels associated with moderate mental illness (MMI) and serious mental illness (SMI), respectively. Not receiving benefits was associated with a 50% increase in odds of SMI (aOR = 1.50, 95% CI [1.03–2.20], p = 0.036). Benefits perceived to be the most helpful for participants were flexible hours/schedule (3.5; SD ± 0.9), flexible work location (3.3; SD ± 1.1), and supplemental paid time off (3.1; SD ± 1.1), with mean scores above very helpful. Conclusion: Results suggest employment benefits may help support the mental health of working mothers and provide a call to action to employers and policy stakeholders to develop solutions addressing gaps in workplace benefits and mental health support for working parents, with sustainable reform in mind to mitigate employment benefit inequities exposed by the pandemic.


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