The truth about work equality

 

Photo by Peter Rad for TIME

Pop Quiz: True or False? When you combine time spent in both paid and unpaid work, women put in an average of 15 more hours each week than men.

According to a recent TIME magazine article by Ruth Davis Konigsberg, this previously accepted fact is actually FALSE.  Surprised? So was I.

I think I first heard this statistic soon after the birth of my daughter. After my four month maternity leave, I went back toTime Magazine August 8, 2011 work full time while my husband was able to work part-time and stay home to care for our infant daughter.  Even though I felt like our situation was fairly egalitarian, I still found myself wondering if we were both pulling equal weight. After all, while he did his share of the laundry, vacuumed the rugs, and made sure the trash was put to the curb, I was the one cooking most of the meals, nursing my daughter in the wee hours of the morning, making sure the checkbook was balanced, and bringing in most of the income to keep us in the black.  The more I thought about it, and the more I commiserated with my fellow moms, I believed the statistic had to be true: moms work more than dads. Period.

The study that started it all, published as The Second Shift, was researched by a sociologist name Arlie Hoschschild in 1989Her research was based on qualitative interviews and data collected in the 1960s and 1970s. Even though the information in her study was based on decades-old information formed at a time when our entire culture was in transition, people continued to accept the data as fact well into the end of the 90’s.  Fortunately, another sociologist, Suzanne Bianchi, picked up where Hoschschild’s research left off. In the early 21st century, Bianchi studied time diaries of a cross section of American families.  The diaries accounted for nearly every minute of the mom’s or dad’s day, including work, child care, and domestic chores.  The surprising result is that when both men and women worked outside the home, the mother only worked an average of five more hours a week than her partner (not 15).  This was most evident in families where the children were under the age of 6.  As children aged, the work differential continued to narrow and parents of teenagers carried almost the same workload, regardless of gender.  In households where mothers stayed home full time, they actually worked ten hours fewer than their full-time working husbands (58 hours vs. 68 hours).

The truth is that as our culture has changed, our roles as parents, caregivers, and providers have evolved as well. Men, on average, spend more time with their children. Even if they are not actively involved in domestic chores like cooking and cleaning, they are participating in childcare duties at a rate more than twice that of their fathers or grandfathers.  While their average time engaged in paid work has decreased minimally from 47 hours per week to about 41 hours per week, their time engaged in domestic duties such as cooking, cleaning, and housework has increased exponentially from about 90 minutes per week to almost five hours per week.

Probably the least surprising statistics in this study revolved around the role of balance.  In families where only one parent works outside the home, the other parent’s time is understandably devoted to more domestic tasks but it is that balance that allows the family unit to function as a cohesive unit. What is also evident is that when leisure time is available, men and women tend to have differences in how they are able to “let go”. Typically, men seem to have better access to kid-free leisure time while moms often spend their “leisure time” with the kids: at the pool, the pizza parlor, or the amusement park. We all know it’s not the same.

My take-away from this study is two-fold:   First, kudos to families!  We are doing a much better job balancing the workload in the frenzy of our day-to-day lives.

Second, moms need to do a better job finding opportunities to let go and recharge…without the kids.

Let dad or grandma or Aunt June keep the kids for an afternoon. Treat yourself to a massage, a movie with the girls, or maybe just two hours without the kids reading a magazine at your favorite coffee shop.  Whatever you do, make sure it’s done without guilt.  We are better moms when we give ourselves a chance to recharge.

Rachel Reynolds

Rachel Reynolds balances her time as Principal of the Dominion School for Commonwealth Autism Service, Executive Director and Co-founder of CJ's Thumbs Up Foundation, and writing on her personal blog. Her first book, Four Seasons for Charlotte, a memoir chronicling her daughter's battle with cancer was released in May 2012.

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