The COVID-19 pandemic had detrimental and unequal repercussions on mental health. To date there is little evidence exploring how motherhood and workplace size moderates this relationship for working women. This study aimed to estimate changes in working women's mental health at the start of each UK lockdown and estimate the effect of motherhood and workplace size on mental health. We used Understanding Society data from women in paid employment, who participated in at least: one pre-COVID-19 Wave (9 or 10/11) and one COVID-19 lockdown wave (Lockdown 1: April 2020, Lockdown 2: November 2020, Lockdown 3: January 2021). Primary outcome was probable psychological distress (i.e., score≥4 in the General Health Questionnaire-12 (GHQ-12)). In Model 1, exposure was motherhood (binary), interacting with a variable that split time in the pre-pandemic and lockdown periods. In Model 2, workplace size (Micro:1–24, Medium: 25–199, Large: More than 200 employees) was added as an exposure (3-way interaction) to investigate moderation effects. We fitted mixed–effects logistic regression models, adjusting for age, ethnicity, UK country of residence, cohabitation, educational qualifications, working hours, furlough, subjective financial difficulty and previous health condition. In the adjusted Model 1, pre-pandemic, odds of GHQ-12 caseness were lower for mothers compared to non-mothers (OR:0.89 95%CI:0.77,1.03). However post-pandemic compared to pre-pandemic, odds for mothers were higher than non-mothers, especially during lockdown 3 (Non-mothers: OR:1.93 95%CI:1.69,2.20; Mothers: OR:2.87 95%CI:2.36,3.49). In Model 2, workplace size did not modify the relationship. Pre-pandemic, there was no difference in the odds of GHQ-12 caseness by workplace size; however, the differences observed in Lockdown 3 between non-mothers and mothers, are mainly attributed to differences in medium-sized enterprises (Non-mothers: OR:1.95 95%CI:1.53,2.48; Mothers: OR:3.56 95%CI:2.54,4.99). Future policies should be designed to facilitate the working lives of mothers, but especially for medium-sized enterprises as extreme uncertainty appears to affect these employees more.

Cite as

Wilson, J., Demou, E. & Kromydas, T. 2023, 'COVID-19 lockdowns and working women’s mental health: Does motherhood and size of workplace matter? A comparative analysis using Understanding', Social Science & Medicine, 340, article no: 116418. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.socscimed.2023.116418

Downloadable citations

Download HTML citationHTML Download BIB citationBIB Download RIS citationRIS
Last updated: 30 November 2023
Was this page helpful?