A Pat on the Back for Working Mothers

Cathy Arnst

Finally, a study that's not trying to make us working moms feel guilty. A new study finds that working mothers aren't spending any less time with their kids than mothers did 40 years ago. If anything, they are spending more time! Instead, the big change has been the number of hours spent doing housework. Seems we've all gotten a little bit messier.

The study. a joint project of the Russell Sage Foundation and the American Sociological Society, analyzed time diary data from surveys of American parents over the last four decades. Unexpectedly, the authors found that mothers’ time at work has not resulted in an overall decline in sleep, leisure time or time spent with their children, even though 79% of women with children under 18 now work, compared with less than 40% in the 1960s. Mothers today make room for both work and family by sacrificing time spent doing housework and by increased “multitasking.” The other good news: Fathers are also spending more time with the kids, and pitching in more around the house, though they still aren't putting in as many hours as mothers.

For married mothers, the time spent on child care activities increased to an average of 12.9 hours a week in 2000, from 10.6 hours in 1965. For married fathers, the time spent on child care more than doubled, to 6.5 hours a week, from 2.6 hours. Single mothers reported spending 11.8 hours a week on child care, up from 7.5 hours in 1965.

The book, Changing Rhythms of American Family Life, found that the total workload (in and out of the home) for employed parents is high for both sexes, with employed mothers averaging five hours more per week than employed fathers and almost nineteen hours more per week than homemaker mothers.

The New York Times did a lengthy story on the study, focusing on the family time vs cleaning time tradeoff:

“As the hours of paid work went up for mothers, their hours of housework declined,” said Ms. Bianchi, a former president of the Population Association of America. “It was almost a one-for-one trade.”

Meaghan O. Perlowski, a 32-year-old mother of three in Des Moines, said in an interview, “Spending time with my kids is my highest priority, but it’s a juggling act.”

Ms. Perlowski, who is a full-time pharmaceutical sales representative, said she did grocery shopping and errands on her lunch hour and cut back on housework so she would have more time with her children.

“We don’t worry much about keeping the house spotless,” she said. “It’s sometimes a mess, cluttered with school papers, backpacks and toys, but that's OK."

Check out the Times story, it has an interesting chart showing the changes in time allocation over the past 40 years.

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