The COVID-19 pandemic and resulting lockdowns had a near-immediate impact on the lives of academics around the world. In many situations, mothers of young children decreased working hours (Collins et al., 2020) and academic mothers reported decreased ability to conduct research (Myers et al., 2020). As a result, research publications by women dropped precipitously (Kibbe, 2020).


We used Ecological Momentary Assessment (EMA, also known as Random Time Sampling) to examine the real-time, day-to-day activities of 130 male and female academics with and without children. Data were collected in June and July of 2020. Participants were asked at six random time-points per day over the course of one week to report the activities they were currently undertaking.


Academic parents, especially mothers, were found to be less likely to have access to uninterrupted work time. Academic mothers were also three times more likely than academic fathers to multitask, and nearly five times more likely than academic fathers to multitask by doing an activity and caring for children simultaneously. Finally, academic mothers were 4.25 times more likely than academic fathers to be caring for children when contacted.

A clustered bar chart titled “Ecological Momentary Assessment Responses”. It shows the percentage of mothers, fathers, women without children and men without children who respond as currently undertaking a particular task type. Five tasks are shown: research, 60 minutes uninterrupted, multitasking, multitasking with children and childcare. Only mothers and fathers multitask with children and perform childcare; mothers are more than twice as likely as fathers to be conducting these activities. Parents are less likely than non-parents to have research time, with mothers being the least likely.


The COVID-19 pandemic has had unequal effects on the time of mothers. Decreases in research publication over the course of the last two years will have a compounding effect on access to research funding, promotion and other opportunities for academic mothers, unless universities work to mitigate these effects.


Collins C, Landivar LC, Ruppanner L and Scarborough WJ (2020) ‘COVID‐19 and the gender gap in work hours’, Gender, Work & Organization, 28(S1):101–112.

Kibbe MR (2020) ‘Consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic on manuscript submissions by women’, JAMA Surgery, 155(9):803–804.

Myers KR, Tham WY, Yin Y, Cohodes N, Thursby JG, Thursby MC, Schiffer P, Walsh JT, Lakhani KR and Wang D (2020) ‘Unequal effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on scientists’, Nature Human Behaviour, 4(9):880–883.


  • Roxanna N. Pebdani, the University of Sydney


  • Adriana Zeidan, the University of Sydney
  • Lee-Fay Low, the University of Sydney
  • Andrew Baillie, the University of Sydney