Parents and work-life balance: Time, family and gender roles

A new study looks at how gender and parenting roles over the decades. Photo: Howie Le

SILVER SPRING, Md, March 30, 2013 – It’s probably not news to you, but parenting today is not like it was when your parents were raising you, and even farther removed from how your grandparents raised your parents.  The idea of traditional parenting roles have faded over time. It is no longer assumed that a mother is going to stay home and raise the kids, and fathers’ roles in child rearing have expanded over the decades.  A new study from the Pew Research Center shows that the two parenting roles are beginning to converge as both mothers and fathers struggle to find a happy balance between work and family, but there are still gaps.

The study surveyed 2511 adults nationwide combined with an American Time Use Survey that has been conducted in an ongoing basis since 2003. The Pew Study also had available time use data from 1965.  According to the study, fathers still put in 16 hours of paid work more than the mothers, but they are doing more housework and putting in more time with child care than they used to. When compared with the number from 1965, fathers have increased the amount of house work they do from 4 to 10 hours a week, and most notably increased their time involved in child care from a 1965 average of 2.5 hours a week to 7 hours a week. Comparably, women are spending more time in paid work now (21 hours) than in 1965 (8 hours a week) and have cut the hours of housework by 44%. Despite spending more time out of the house and in jobs now than in the past, women have managed to increase the number of hours in a week they spend with their children.

Roughly 60% of homes with children under the age of 18 have two parents who work. In those households, when the paid work is combined with housework, the workload is equally shared.  While almost equal numbers of moms and dads say they would like to be home raising their kids, fathers are more likely to want to work full time.  Still 32% of moms say they want to work full time, which is a drastic increase.

More mothers are working out of the house, yet they have found ways to make more time for their children. Photo by Highways Agency via Flickr.


Interestingly, the general public takes a different view from parents with children under the age of 18. They generally are not as supportive of mothers working full time. Only 16% think that having a mom work full time can provide and “ideal” situation for children, while 42% think that a mom working part-time is ideal and a third of the public thinks it’s best if mothers do not work at all outside the home. So while women have made gains in education and the workplace, public opinion has not fully caught up to the reality of how parents are raising their children.

However, despite both moms and dads spending more time with their children on average, about half of both sets find it difficult to find a good work/home balance.  Feeling rushed is just a part of life for many, but feeling rushed with kids can come easier and can contribute to feeling like you are not spending enough time in the right places. In the survey, 40% of working mothers and 34% of working fathers say they feel rushed. The rushed feeling may be a contributor to a feeling of inadequacy in the amount of time spent with their children. Of fathers, 46% say they do not spend enough time with their children, while only 23% of women feel the same way. This probably goes back to the fact that men still spend more hours out of the house in paying jobs.

Both moms and dads have increased the number of hours spent with their children. Photo by Adam Jones.


Despite whatever misgivings parents may have about the amount of time they spend with their children, they feel like their best is good enough.  A whopping 69% say they have done an excellent or very good job raising their children, and another 24% say they have done a good job. For whatever regrets parents may have about their time out of the house and the amount of time they spend with their children, only 6% say they have done a fair or poor job.

While there are still gender gaps in work-home roles, they are much smaller than they were in 1965. Regardless of how paid work and housework are divided, the good news for families and children is that both mothers and fathers have found ways to increase the number of hours they are spending with their children.


Follow Brighid on Twitter a @BrighidMoret and receive updates when new columns post on Facebook or Google+. She also writes picture book reviews at Big Reads For Little Hands. Read more about first time parenting issues in Parenting the First Time Through at The Communities at The Washington Times.




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Brighid Moret

Brighid is a freelance writer and first time mother.  She holds an MA in Writing from Johns Hopkins University.  Find her on Facebook @Brighid Moret


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