More American women are working full-time, but that doesn’t mean that their family lives have caught up. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in households with children under 6, moms put in an hour of physical childcare per day, while dads did 23 minutes. The chore breakdown was similarly unequal; on an average day, women spent 47 more minutes per day on household activities like food prep and laundry. Why is this a big deal? Well, in addition to making it harder for women to put in extra time at the office and get ahead at work, lack of leisure time means less room for creativity and innovation.
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“Scientists studying brain scans recently discovered that moments of creativity take place when the mind is at rest rather than working on something,” writes Geoffrey James at Inc. “And since creative approaches are so crucial to success, workaholics are working themselves out [of] a job.”
Valuable words of caution for the hard worker who voluntarily burns the midnight oil, but frustrating for many working moms, who are still stuck working a second shift of domestic duties once their workdays are done.
Time Confetti: Why Working Moms’ Schedules Are So Impossible
Last year, author Brigid Schulte wrote about consulting a time-use expert who examined her diaries and told her that she had an estimated 27 hours of leisure time a week. In response to her shock, he showed her pockets of minutes between childcare drop-offs and work commitments. He even included time spent by the side of the road waiting for a tow truck to arrive.
“The image that came to mind was this: time confetti,” she wrote at Daily Life. “What I didn’t know at the time was that this is what time is like for most women: fragmented, interrupted by child care and housework. Whatever leisure time they have is often devoted to what others want to do – particularly the kids – and making sure everyone else is happy doing it. Often women are so preoccupied by all the other stuff that needs doing – worrying about the carpool, whether there’s anything in the fridge to cook for dinner – that the time itself is what sociologists call ‘contaminated.'”
In other words, working moms, it’s not that you’re bad at managing your time; it’s that your free time, such as it is, is so hemmed in by everyone else’s needs, it’s difficult to use it to any real benefit.
Worry Work Is Impossible to Quantify
Beyond all the actual physical work that goes into running a household and caring for a family on top of maintaining a career, there’s the harder-to-measure managerial labor that takes place almost invisibly, behind the scenes – the “worry work,” as some sociologists call it.
“I wish I could say that fathers and mothers worry in equal measure,” wrote Judith Shulevitz at The New York Times. “But they don’t. Disregard what your two-career couple friends say about going 50-50. Sociological studies of heterosexual couples from all strata of society confirm that, by and large, mothers draft the to-do lists while fathers pick and choose among the items. And whether a woman loves or hates worry work, it can scatter her focus on what she does for pay and knock her partway or clean off a career path. This distracting grind of apprehension and organization may be one of the least movable obstacles to women’s equality in the workplace.”
This is a primary reason why PayScale’s report, Inside the Gender Pay Gap, shows such a big difference between controlled and uncontrolled data for differences in men and women’s pay. All things being equal – title, experience, education – women earn 97 cents for every dollar a man earns. But all things are not equal. When we compare women’s wages to men’s without taking those factors into account, women earn 74 cents on the dollar.
Whenever we write about the gender pay gap, commenters inevitably bring up job choice as a reason behind the inequity, the idea being that if women want to stay home temporarily or permanently, or work part-time in order to have a family, it’s reasonable for them to make less money. But in the only industrialized nation in the world that does not require paid maternity leave, can we really say that women have a choice?
Add in the fact that women do more around the house even when they do work, and it becomes pretty obvious why women have trouble reaching pay equity. Even if they can put in the hours at the office, many are always working two jobs. And even if they’re lucky enough to have a truly egalitarian relationship, unconscious bias may lead their managers to assume they’re not able to contribute in the same way as their male peers.
So What’s the Solution?
The first step is the most obvious and potentially difficult: families have to commit to splitting domestic chores evenly. Schulte and her husband did this by taking long walks together and discussing what needed to be done around the house. Once they’d divided up the chores – not just the doing, but the planning and worrying – it became easier for Schulte to take back real time, not just time confetti.
“The more we shared, the more time I had for other things,” she said. “I began to run. I found time to read again. And the more he took full responsibility, and I wasn’t delegating, then checking in to see if my ‘helper’ followed through – the more space I had in my head for other things – like thinking, and writing a book.”
Beyond that, we all have to face up to the cultural messages we’ve absorbed about women’s responsibilities to home and family. That’s tough to do, of course, when you don’t even realize you’ve absorbed those messages. It starts by being willing to question our assumptions, either that we should do the worry work or that the little things will just sort of take care of themselves (depending on who we are).
In short, your mom doesn’t work here, even if “here” is at home. It’s time for all of us to pull our own weight in both the domestic and professional spheres, so that women can have space to succeed.
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