I’ve complained a lot recently about various articles that continue to channel the notion – debunked by even a casual glance at actual data – that women work more than do men. As I forever point out, studies that ask men and women to keep track of what they do every day and the time spent on each task all but invariably produce similar results. Those results show that, when we aggregate men’s paid and unpaid work and do the same for women, each sex spends a statistically identical amount of time working each day. Articles saying otherwise invariably focus on women’s work in the home and ignore men’s work at the office or plant. Yes, women do more domestic work, but men do more paid work. Anyone claiming that women are hard put upon by that is simply in search of a complaint to make.
Now comes the Institute for Family Studies to make much the same points but with even more detailed analysis of even more data (IFS, 6/11/19). Researcher and writer Robert VerBruggen calls the idea of the lazy father a “myth” and rightly so.
In honor of Father’s Day, allow me to dig into the data on how parents spend their time, and to bring to light a side of it that few seem willing to discuss. It’s a side that makes dads look . . . good.Dads… good? Who’d a thunk it? As VerBruggen suggests, we see very little of that concept bandied about in the MSM. Indeed, when it comes to men and women and the “work/life balance,” alert readers could easily conclude that men, particularly dads, are lazy bums. The “good mom/bad dad” dichotomy is everywhere peddled by all and sundry. The only problem with that narrative is that it’s just not true.
My core points are these: Among married couples living together with kids, if anything, it’s dads who do more work in total—adding up paid work, housework, child care, and even shopping. Moms do work more in some specific circumstances, but the data acquit fathers as a group of the slacking charges so frequently leveled against them. Further, the biggest complaint that is actually consistent with the numbers—that moms and dads do different blends of home work and paid work—is not necessarily a problem at all, and to insist otherwise is to devalue parents’ own preferences.Now, in my posts on this topic, I’ve always just looked at men’s and women’s paid work and men’s and women’s time spent in childcare. That results in almost a dead heat between the two. But VerBruggen goes further into the data and include all sorts of domestic chores. When we do that, it turns out that men actually do more work than do women.
I’ll start with a fact that has been reported several times, yet mysteriously has never inspired think pieces in mainstream-media outlets. Combining housework, child care, and paid work, dads put in just as much time as moms do—in fact, a little more. The Pew Research Center found this in the 2011 American Time Use Survey (though a gap of just 54 vs. 53 hours per week) and again in the 2016 round (61 vs. 57), and a joint panel of the Brookings Institution and the American Enterprise Institute confirmed the results using the 2015 data. Combining the 2013 to 2017 ATUS,1and limiting the data to respondents married and living with their spouses to ensure the moms and dads represent similar households, I find a gap of about 40 minutes per day, or four and a half hours per week: about 59 for men and 55 for women.So it’s not just me looking at the American Time Use Survey of the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It’s Pew Research, the Brookings Institution, the American Enterprise Institute and, of course, VerBruggen. That’s company I’m happy to keep.
But maybe the variations hidden in those averages tell a different story.
Maybe (a) moms are more likely to stay home, in which case they put in fewer hours, but (b) in cases where moms and dads both work for pay, women end up doing far more work.Nope.
[U]sing my combined ATUS sample, I find remarkably similar time investments by working moms and dads in the same situations:
· In cases where the respondent works for pay and so does the respondent’s spouse, dads do 62 hours worth of total work each week to moms’ 59.
· In cases where both the respondent and the spouse work for pay full-time, dads work 63 hours in total, to moms’ 62.So the lazy dad theme is indeed a myth. We’ve in fact known this for a long time, which means the MSM should have figured it out by now. So far they haven’t.
VerBruggen’s point about differing preferences between the sexes is also (a) spot on and (b) one I never tire of making. Much as some would like to deny it, couples tend to work out between them what they see as the best arrangement for them and their children. That usually means one adult – usually Dad - does more paid work and the other –usually Mom - more childcare, but not always.
However they divide up the labor, it’s usually with an eye toward optimizing both earnings and the child’s welfare.
Researchers like Dr. Catherine Hakim have dug into those preferences and found that, unsurprisingly, there’s a distinct division between the sexes. Women, whether married or not, whether mothers or not, on average feel much less motivation to do paid work than do men.
As David Barash put it in his book Out of Eden, “there is no society in which men do more fathering than women do mothering.” And as Steve Stewart-Williams noted in The Ape That Understood the Universe, it is far more common not just among humans but in nature writ large for females to be the sex that invests more in children. The reasons for this are obvious and many. The mother is always present at a child’s birth, for instance, making maternal bonding an especially reliable way to ensure a kid is taken care of; moms also can be sure that the children they deliver are their own, and thus don’t risk “wasting” (in evolutionary terms) their parental investments on a child who doesn’t share their genes. At a minimum, we shouldn’t find it surprising or offensive if women indicate a greater desire to spend time with their children, even if it costs them at work. And they do.It’s the 21st century. We shouldn’t be surprised or enraged by women’s desire to care for their children or men’s desire to provide for their families. Centuries of humankind have taken both as a matter of course. Today we’ve managed to forget what people have known for millennia.
Who knows, with enough people like VerBruggen telling the truth about fathers and mothers, maybe someday we’ll relearn it.