The rapid rise of remote work over the last two years has rippled through society and the economy in a variety of ways. Amid many other negative social disruptions from the pandemic, there has been one positive change: remote work has provided some individuals and families with more work-related flexibility and time with family. For a variety of reasons, it is plausible that this flexibility and time may have been one factor that has increased birth rates over the pandemic for wealthier or more educated women. In this analysis, we provide empirical evidence suggesting that this is the case. While the long-running decline of 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. Given the importance of birth rates for demographic change, economic growth, and much much more, this is an important issue.
To begin, it is useful to understand how remote work has provided greater flexibility and more free time. In the U.S., individuals save on average just under an hour of commuting time every day they work from home. In addition to this added leisure and work time, this allows them to spend more time with their families, ability to do more household chores, and generally contributing more to household production. Early data suggests that workers are spending 11.1 percent of their saved commute time on childcare, and 15.5 percent on housework. Among those living with children, the share spent on childcare rose to 18.2 percent, which is consistent with pre-pandemic data showing that mothers and fathers who work remotely spend substantially more time with their children on days they work from home. Other research has shown that time spent on parental care of their own children is associated with more positive reports of subjective well-being; that is, people tend to derive satisfaction and happiness from being with their own children.