COLUMBUS, Ohio — What is Dad doing while Mom is caring for the kids and doing the housework? Having some free time, it seems! According to research from Ohio State University, new fathers generally spend more time in repose than new mothers, especially on the weekends.
The study showed that by three months after a couple’s first child is born, dads are found to be relaxing more frequently while moms are spending more time tidying up the house or tending to the baby.
“It’s frustrating. Household tasks and child care are still not being shared equally, even among couples who we expected would have more egalitarian views of how to share parenting duties,” says Claire Kamp Dush, the study’s lead author and an associate professor of human sciences, in a news release.
Researchers say they were unaware of any detailed time-related studies for first-time parents. So they set up the New Parents Project, with 52 couples participating. Most were well-educated, white, dual-earner couples from the Columbus area who were becoming parents for the first time.
“It is a small sample. It is not the definitive answer, and is mostly relevant to similar couples,” admits Kamp Dush. “But we need to look into this further and understand how dual-earner couples are sharing housework and child care.”
For this study, couples were tasked with recording how they spent each minute of the day in time diaries. The diaries reflected what each person was doing at the same time on the same days.
The diaries tracked minute-by-minute activity for one workday and one non-workday during the third trimester of the woman’s pregnancy. The couples again tracked how they spent each moment of one workday and one non-workday around the time the baby reached the age of three months.
The results showed that men and women shared child care and housework more equally on workdays. Women, however, were doing slightly more work.
“On workdays, parents are more evenly splitting housework and childcare. It’s very much ‘all hands on deck,’” says co-author Jill Yavorsky. “But when there is more time available on the weekend and parents are not so pressed to get everything done, then we see the emergence of gendered patterns and inequality where women do a lot more housework and childcare while he leisures.”
The study found that when dads joined in on the workload, moms often kept going as well. On days when both parents were home and not going to work, the inequities were much more apparent.
When men took over child care or housework on their non-working days, women enjoyed 46 to 49 minutes of free time. But when the women were doing some kind of housework or child care on their days off, the men had free time for about twice as long — 101 minutes.
Statistically, the study found that for childcare duties, men were enjoying free time 46% of the time their partners were caring for the baby. Women, on the other hand, were relaxing just 16% of the time their partners were providing child care.
As for housework, dads relaxed for 35% of the time their partners were doing household tasks. Women put their feet up for just 19% of the time men were taking care of the house.
Researchers expected these dual-earning, well-educated couples would have found fairer ways to distribute the workload.
“I was expecting to see a lot more minutes where the couple was doing some kind of housework or child care together,” says Kamp Dush. “I suspect the situation may be even less equitable for women who don’t have all the advantages of the couples in our sample.”
Researchers say that there are things both men and women can do to even out the workload. Dads need to step up to the plate, especially on weekends. Moms need to back off and let their partners take over, even if they do not do things exactly the same way.
“Couples need to be having conversations, ideally before their baby is born, about how they are going to divide household tasks to make sure they are equitable,” says Kamp Dush. “At the time we studied them, these couples were setting up routines that may last several years as the kids grow. Couples need to be having these conversations from the first few months.”
The full study was published online in the journal Sex Roles.