Study: Remote Work Encourages Marriage, Family Expansion

Remote work may boost marriage rates and encourage women who are already parents to have more children, a new paper found.

Economist Adam Ozimek and demographer Lyman Stone, analyzing the survey data of 3,000 American women between the ages of 18-44 from the Demographic Intelligence Family Survey, hypothesize that “remote work during COVID made a positive contribution to the U.S. and potentially other developed countries’ fertility rates.” The findings come after the U.S. reported the lowest fertility rate on record in 2020.

The data show that unmarried remote workers “are significantly more likely to marry in the next year than their non-remote counterparts, potentially driven by higher migration rates.” Women who reported no remote work had a 15.7 percent marginal mean probability of being likely to marry in the next year compared to 22 percent who had some remote work.

“The effect is quite large and robust to a range of alternative control variables,”Ozimek and Stone wrote. “One speculative explanation for this effect is that remote workers now have higher migration rates than other workers, according to data from the American Community Survey; thus, remote work may have enabled people interested in marriage to relocate closer to a potential spouse. In other words, remote work may have helped alleviate the ‘two body problem.”‘

Ozimek and Stone found that in the absence of time-consuming commutes, remote workers — particularly those living with children — are able to allocate more time to childcare and housework.

“This increased flexibility and time helped boost birth rates over the pandemic, specifically for wealthier or more educated women,” they found.

They continued:

In addition, remote work provides some workers an added flexibility about not just where to work, but also when. This flexibility allows parents to not just have more time for childcare overall, but also more control over how they spend that time, making it easier to contribute to the sometimes inflexible schedules that parenting can require. Indeed, in pre-pandemic data, the number one reason parents stated they worked from home was “to coordinate their work schedule with their personal or family needs.”

The paper additionally found that while remote work only has a mild positive effect on the likelihood of near-term pregnancy, “its effects on fertility intentions are particularly pronounced for women over age 35 (and especially over age 39).”

“In other words, remote work doesn’t necessarily trigger women to initiate childbearing, but it may help older women balance the competing demands of work and family and thereby to achieve their family goals,” they wrote.

Ozimek and Stone found by looking at the number of prior live births, that remote work has the biggest effect on women who already have several children and no effect on the fertility intention of women who have no or one child.

“But for women with two or more children, and especially working women with four or more children, remote work is associated with greater intentions to have more children. Here again we see that remote work may not do much to help women launch their family life at first, but it can help working mothers reach their ideal family size,” they found.

Additionally, women whose household finances have gotten “much better” in the past year are 10 percentage points more likely to report being pregnant or trying to become pregnant if they work remotely. In contrast, women who work remotely but report stable or worsening financial situations are not more or less likely to report being pregnant or trying than non-remote workers.

“Remote work seems to help women in improving circumstances to capitalize on those improvements and convert financial success into family life,” they wrote.

Ozimek and Stone wrote that while declining fertility rates across the developed world “makes it difficult to be optimistic overall about the future trajectory of births,” the rise of remote work “is one factor that seems likely to help push in the other direction, at least in some subgroups of the population.”

“While the evidence is early and far from conclusive, we believe this research makes the case for the hypothesis that elevated levels of remote work during COVID made a positive contribution to the U.S. and potentially other developed countries’ fertility rates,” they wrote.

“Moreover, we believe this evidence is suggestive that the ‘return to the office’ may contribute to falling birth rates, and that governments interested in supporting marriage and implementing pro-natal policies may be interested in considering how flexible work arrangements can be supported and encouraged,” they concluded.


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