Although today's fathers pitch in
with routine child care more than dads did a few decades ago, a new study finds
that mothers are still doing more. Even when both parents work outside the
Researchers looking at middle-class,
dual-income households found that mothers took on the majority of child
care-related tasks, and were still spending more of their free time on child
care than men.
"Both parents may think they
should divide child care responsibilities equally, but mothers still feel a
special pressure to show they are being the best parent they can be,"
study co-author, Sarah Schoppe-Sullivan, an associate professor of human
sciences at Ohio State University, said in a university news release.
The study, published in the journal Family Relations, involved 182 couples
living in double-income households. The researchers collected data on the
parents from the third trimester of pregnancy through the first nine months of
Dividing parenting duties
The couples kept diaries of both a
workday and a non-workday, recording everything they did in each 24-hour
period. The participants filled out this diary when their child was 3 months
old and again at 9 months old.
The researchers divided parenting
duties into four categories:
- Positive engagement: parents
played with, talked to or read to their child
- Responsibility: providing
indirect care, such as scheduling check-ups
- Accessibility: supervising the
child, but no other parenting activities
- Routine care: bathing, feeding
Both mothers and fathers were highly
involved with their children, the study revealed. On non-workdays, parents
spent more than 2.75 hours of positive engagement with their 9-month-old
Mothers, however, spent more than
twice as much of their parenting time on routine care than fathers. This was
true even after taking into account time spent breast-feeding and pumping
"Mothers spent more time on the
challenging but vital activities like feeding and bathing," Letitia
Kotila, study lead author and a doctoral student in human sciences at Ohio
State, said in the news release.
"The fathers were most involved
in positive engagement and accessibility which, while important, may not be as
demanding as the routine care. They took on more of a helping role rather than
that of the primary caregiver."
Women's greater parenting burden
started soon after their baby was born, the study found. By the time their
children were 9 months old, women spent almost 70% of their time on an average
weekday, when they were not working or sleeping, on some type of child care.
Meanwhile, fathers spent 50% of their free time on similar tasks involving
"Although the mothers and
fathers had similar work constraints, the mothers still invested significantly
more time into parenting," Kotila noted.
The researchers added that parents
are likely to keep their routines and behave the same way with additional
children as they do with their first child. They advised women to be careful
not to do too much and to give themselves a break.
"We have always talked about
fathers doing more, but it may be that mothers should do less. They need to
relinquish some control," Schoppe-Sullivan said. "Today's dads are
likely doing much more child care than fathers of previous generations. But the
mothers are also doing more."
The US National Library of Medicine
has more about parenting.