Moms Often Work While Dads Relax, Study Finds

By Marion Renault
The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) A new study from Ohio State University reveals that on workdays, parents took an ‘all hands on deck’ approach to dividing household duties. But on days off, gender stereotypes emerged, as women took on more housework and child care while the father enjoyed leisure time.

The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio

Chris Reed and his wife, Sonya, do their best to divide parenting equally.

The Westerville couple, both of whom work full time, rotate who gets their 1-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter awake and dressed in the morning.

Chris always drives the children to day care. In the evening, Sonya picks them up while he gets supper started at home. With their firstborn, Chris said he and his wife bathed and put the baby to sleep together.

“We don’t have any codified system for it,” he said. “We don’t really talk about it much at all. I see a job needs to get done and I do it. Same with her.”

But new research from Ohio State University suggests that the Reeds’ family dynamic might not be the norm.

The study, published online this month in the journal Sex Roles, showed that even in highly educated couples where both partners have full-time jobs, moms and dads don’t split housework or child care evenly.

“I was not surprised as a parent,” said Sarah Schoppe-Sullivan, a human-sciences professor involved in the published paper. “It absolutely goes on in my home. I’m a whirling dervish. I have a hard time relaxing. I’ve always got to be doing something.”

For the study, researchers analyzed how 52 couples from the Columbus area spent their time both before and after the birth of their first child.

They discovered that on workdays, parents took an ‘all hands on deck’ approach to dividing household duties. But on days off, gender stereotypes emerged, as women took on more housework and child care while the father enjoyed leisure time.

For the research, couples filled out time diaries for both work and non-work days during their pregnancy’s third trimester, then again about three months after their child’s birth.

“Every activity was accounted for,” said Claire Kamp Dush, the paper’s lead author and associate professor of human sciences at Ohio State. “For example, we could track that when she was doing housework, he was watching TV — which turned out to be really common.”

The study found that over the transition into parenthood, men actually spent more time doing leisure activities while their partner did chores or child care.

On days off, women spent 46 to 49 minutes relaxing while men attended to household duties. On the flip side, the men spent about 101 minutes relaxing while their partners did the same kind of work.

“That blew my mind,” Kamp Dush said.

Researchers also found that when new dads were spending time with children or working around the house, the moms were often doing the same thing.

Still, Schoppe-Sullivan said the findings don’t necessarily suggest the problem begins and ends with negligent dads. Mothers also might be reluctant to allow them to be equal partners in housework and child-rearing, she said.

“That’s the story: lazy dads. And that’s amusing, and true on one level. But it’s not as simple as that,” said Schoppe-Sullivan. “The other story is mothers are choosing not to relax.”

Kamp Dush’s past research found that men often overestimate how much they contribute to household duties. She said she plans to explore whether those imbalances can predict mothers going on leave or dropping to part-time jobs.

For now, she said, the new study suggests that dads need to step up and moms need to step back, especially in the first stretch of parenthood when long-lasting household routines and responsibilities are established.

Striking an egalitarian balance takes talking specifically about how to achieve one, Kamp Dush said.

Jessica Studebaker, of Worthington, said that’s been her experience.

She and her husband, Matt, juggle taking care of their toddler and 11-month-old with shared to-do lists, online calendars and meal plans.

“We have our quintessential moments where he’s doing yardwork and I’m doing laundry. But there’s also times when I’m outside pulling weeds and he’s inside folding towels,” she said. “We are 100 percent 50-50 with it.”

Chris Reed said he grew up in a household with a breadwinning dad and stay-at-home mom. That setup is a lot less common among parents his age, he said, which presents both the challenge and opportunity to ensure a fairer division of household responsibilities.

“We both work, so it has been more confusing. I don’t necessarily have a model for that,” he said. “But my dad friends are really in it and doing the work. They’re more engaged than the dads I knew growing up.”

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