New Data, Same Story on Mothers, Fathers and the Work/Life Balance

November 8, 2015 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

The Pew Research Center has a new analysis of Census Bureau and other data on fathers, mothers and how they deal with establishing a balance between paid work and family time (Pew Research Center, 11/4/15). As usual, actual data tend to contradict much of popular culture’s notion of the same topic.

The analysis compares the amount of time parents spend on work and family from 1970 to the present although some of the data stops at 2011, the most recent year the Census Bureau provides information.

The first thing we see is that 89% of fathers in two-parent households work full-time, but only 46% of mothers do. (Now, Pew doesn’t tell us the definition of “full time,” but I suspect it’s the Department of Labor’s, i.e. 35 hours per week or more. Using that definition, men who work full-time work on average about four hours per week more than women who work full-time.) In all categories, mothers in dual-parent households work substantially more than they did in 1970, probably reflecting the relative stagnation of wages since then. Put simply, much more than in 1970, today families need two earners, so mothers have stepped up. Still, in 28% of dual parent families, Mom does no paid work.

Now, we’re often told that fathers don’t pull their share of the work load on the domestic front. The Pew analysis once again demonstrates the falsity of that claim. In fact, in four out of five of the categories of parents’ activities related to kids, half or more of fathers and mothers share tasks equally. In only one, “managing children’s schedules and activities,” is there substantial inequality. There, 39% of parents say they shoulder the burden equally.

My guess is that the fact that mothers tend to do more child-related tasks is down to fathers working more. Yes, Pew is comparing moms and dads who work full-time, but again, the fact that both work full-time doesn’t mean each works the same number of hours. On average, male full-time workers work more hours than do female full-time workers.

That conclusion is buttressed not only by Labor Department data, but Pew’s as well. Among those same parents in dual-parent households who work full-time, significantly more fathers (50%) than mothers (39%) complain that they don’t spend enough time with their children. And only 48% of fathers say they spend the right amount of time with the kids, while 58% of mothers say the same. So either mothers are satisfied with the same amount of time with their kids that fathers find too little, (a dubious proposition at best) or fathers are actually spending substantially less time with their children than are mothers. And that time the dads aren’t spending with their kids, is likely spent at paid work.

That conclusion is further corroborated by Pew’s data indicating that fathers in two-parent/two-earner households earn more than their partners. Fifty per-cent of those dads earn more than the mothers while only 22% of mothers out earn their partners.

Finally, the fact that more mothers than fathers say that parenting has interfered with their career advancement strongly suggests that they do more parenting than do dads. That in turn suggests the dads do more paid work.

In short, the Pew data reinforce what we already know — that despite the necessities of contemporary life and family finances, despite decades of claims that men and women are interchangeable — adults tend to stick with the sex roles that have been part of human societies since long before homo sapiens came into being. Very strongly, men still prefer to provide for their families and women prefer to care for children. Many are the exceptions, but that is still the rule.

And of course there’s a huge amount of data apart from what’s shown in this Pew Analysis that supports that conclusion. There are some 6 million stay-at-home-mothers in the U.S. compared to under 200,000 stay-at-home-dads, according to the Census Bureau. A survey done for Forbes found 84% of women saying that staying at home and caring for children was something to which to aspire. And many similar surveys indicate women far more than men desiring to work fewer hours than they do. That’s despite the fact that barely over 50% of women between the ages of 20 and 60 are even in the workforce. That’s compared to 74% of men.

It goes on and on. But anyone who cares to draw obvious conclusions will understand that everyday people are far less enthusiastic about abandoning sex roles than elites in academia and pop culture would like us to be.

Beyond doubt, men and women should have equal opportunities to use their time as they see fit. No one should be discriminated against or demeaned because of their sex. All should be respected equally according to their character and achievements. Women should be honored for becoming CEOs of major corporations and men should be praised for being prize-winning dads.

But beyond those basic concepts of equality and civility, we’ll do well to let the chips fall where they may. When we do that, we shouldn’t be surprised to find women opting out of the corporate rat race and men opting in. Caring for children is needed, honorable work, regardless of who does it. So is bringing home the bacon. That women tend to value hands-on parenting and men tend to value providing for their families are facts. Neither is a threat to anyone. We should stop the hectoring and let adults make adult decisions and see where that leaves us.


National Parents Organization is a Shared Parenting Organization

National Parents Organization is a non-profit that educates the public, families, educators, and legislators about the importance of shared parenting and how it can reduce conflict in children, parents, and extended families. Along with Shared Parenting we advocate for fair Child Support and Alimony Legislation. Want to get involved?  Here’s how:

Together, we can drive home the family, child development, social and national benefits of shared parenting, and fair child support and alimony. Thank you for your activism.

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