Working from home appears to be here to stay, especially for women and college-educated workers, according to economic data released Thursday that revealed how Americans spent their time in 2022.
Many white-collar workers who hunkered down at home during pandemic shutdowns have returned to the office, but extraordinarily high numbers have not. For many, remote work appears to be a new normal. The survey also showed that most Americans are spending more time alone, and that women continue to spend more time caring for children than do men.
Working from home “is a permanent shift,” said Julia Pollak, chief economist at ZipRecruiter. “We’re now seeing many companies start as remote-first companies.” The new data is a “continuation of what we’ve been seeing” in the American workforce, she said.
In 2022, 34 percent of workers over age 15 reported working at home vs. 69 percent in the workplace, dipping slightly from the previous year. The total share exceeds 100 percent because some workers surveyed worked from both home and in their workplace in one day. Employees spent an average of 5.4 hours per day working at home.
The pandemic spike in working from home was limited to college-educated workers, especially those with a bachelor’s degree or higher, about 54 percent of whom worked at home in 2022.
The annual survey by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Census Bureau asks thousands of Americans how they spent the past 24 hours of their lives across different categories of activities.
Results from 2019 through 2021 showed that the pandemic dramatically shifted how much time people spend working at home. The new data suggests those changes persisted through 2022, even as much of life returned to normal as more people got vaccinated and boosted against the coronavirus, and case counts fell.
At the onset of the pandemic in 2020, the proportion of employed Americans who worked at home increased from 24 to 42 percent, compared with 2019. The average number of hours spent working at home also jumped, from 3.3 hours per day to nearly 5.8 hours per day, according to ATUS data from May through December of 2019 vs. 2020 (the survey was suspended for the early months of 2020).
The following year, the number of at-home workers dipped only slightly, with the share of at-home workers holding steady at about 38 percent of all workers.
More women are doing their jobs at home
The dramatic shift toward at-home work is most pronounced in the female workforce. Pre-pandemic, 26.2 percent of women worked from home in 2019, which increased to 49.3 percent in 2020 and dipped to 41 percent last year.
In 2020, female workers also were much more likely than male workers to work from home, and since 2021, that gap has widened. Last year, 41 percent of female workers spent time working at home compared with 28 percent of male workers.
Women are more likely to prefer to work from home, as compared with men, surveys of the American workforce show, said Betsey Stevenson, a professor of public policy and economics at the University of Michigan.
The perceived gender gap in remote work is partly because of those personal differences, but it also reflects the different jobs men and women occupy, she said. Women more often have higher degrees, which allow for jobs that are more likely to be remote.
Remote work favors college-educated workers
“The gender differences are small compared to the educational differences,” Stevenson said. She said she spoke to a few autoworkers Wednesday, who said it’s impossible for them to work from home. “You can’t build a car at your house,” she said.
For those with a high school degree or less, the share of at-home workers has been consistently low — fewer than 1 in 5 employees with high school degrees worked at home in 2021, a trend that continued in 2022. Workers without a high school diploma were even less likely to work from home in 2022 than they were before the pandemic.
There is a clear benefit to remote work for employees, Pollak said. Working from home saves time and money on commuting, and many employees want the flexibility to work from anywhere, to better support their parents or children.
She said remote work also is “part of the reason for this huge spike in new business formation. It has lowered the barriers to starting a business.”
Before the pandemic, workers were already trying to negotiate for remote work, Stevenson said. The pandemic forced employers to adopt the tools and teleconferences enabling remote work at a faster rate than the change that was already taking place.
“What the pandemic did was allow us to discover the benefits of remote work, home work and technology out of necessity, to survive the pandemic,” Stevenson said. “The necessity has gone away, but the learnings haven’t.”
Women take on more child care
Gender gaps in working from home mirror those in how parents have balanced child-care time with work. During the height of the pandemic in 2020, women were more likely than men to take on child care as a primary activity, spending more than double the average hours per day taking care of children than men did. That gap narrowed slightly by 2022, but women still spent 1.74 hours per day caring for children, about twice the time men spent on primary child care.
Since 2020, that child-care gap has shifted more toward younger children — those under age 6 — as women spent 2.7 hours per day caring for young children in 2022, up from about 50 minutes in 2020.
Juggling child care with work and other activities fell largely to women in 2020 and 2021, but in 2022, men and women spent about 4.8 and 5.6 hours per day, respectively, on secondary child care, the time spent looking after children while doing other activities such as work or personal care. That difference between men and women had been over two hours per day in 2020.
SJ Glynn, senior adviser for the Women’s Bureau at the Department of Labor, said the data reveals long-standing trends in gender gaps in household labor.
In 2022, on an average day, 85 percent of women and 70 percent of men spent time performing household activities. With cleaning and laundry, for example, 47 percent of women performed these tasks, compared with 22 percent of men, the data shows.
Women were also the primary caretakers. In households with children younger than 6, the data shows, women spent 1.1 hours providing bathing, feeding and other physical care for the children while men spent only 31 minutes providing such care.
“This is a trend we see where women are more likely to be engaging on any given day in household activities, including housework, and spending more time doing them,” Glynn said. The only exception, she said, was yardwork, on which men put in twice as much time as women.
Glynn said there is a common misconception that men work more in general. While men work more hours for pay, “women work more in ways where they not only don’t get paid but also that supports the paid employment of men by freeing up that time for them to be engaging in work that they receive wages for,” she said.
Americans are spending more time alone
Americans ages 20 to 24 are the only group that spent more time socializing than before the pandemic. Teenagers, and adults ages 55 to 64, reported an overall decline in time spent socializing since before the pandemic.
In 2022, men spent 30 minutes a day and women spent 37 minutes a day socializing or communicating with others. That’s down from 37 and 40 minutes per day, respectively, for men and women in 2019.
The data shows that people have leisure time but, oftentimes, are devoting it to television and electronic media, and “neglecting the kinds of behaviors that would improve their health, such as physical activity and preparing healthy diets,” said Deborah Cohen, a research scientist at the Kaiser Permanente Department of Research and Evaluation.
It also reveals that men spent an average of 20 minutes per day participating in sports, exercise and recreation in 2022, whereas women did so for only 15 minutes per day. Cohen said that one limitation of the data is that it does not show how much vigorous physical activity people were getting — only the hours they spent in recreation. The average adult needs 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity per week, according to national guidelines.
There are many reasons for women to spend less time on recreational activities, including that there are fewer opportunities, as well as less encouragement, for exercise and sports for women than for men, Cohen said. In parks, for example, there are more women than men at the playgrounds, usually watching children. There are more men in baseball fields, on basketball courts and at skate parks. Team sports also are geared more toward men than women, she said.
Less physical activity on the part of Americans coupled with unhealthy eating habits is a problem, Cohen said.
She pointed to the data on food preparation and cleanup, which shows that people spent, on average, 39 minutes per day making their own meals in 2022. Women spent more than twice the amount of time on meal prep and cleanup than men — 52 minutes vs. 25 minutes. Cohen noted, however, that over the past 20 years, men have become more involved in the kitchen.
“Diet is one of the biggest determinants of our health,” she said.