Time with kids beats work — but it's more exhausting, parents say
Parents count earning a living as a distant second to spending time with and caring for their children, according to a national time-use report released this week by the Pew Research Center.
The survey of parents who have children under age 18 found that 62 percent consider their child-care experiences "very meaningful," while only 36 percent say the same of their paid work-related activities, according to the report. The findings are based on the well-being module of the 2010 American Time Use Survey, conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The new report is a natural follow-up to one published by Pew in March that detailed how the roles of mothers and fathers are converging. It showed that moms are doing more outside-the-home paid work than they did in the past, while dads are doing more at home than they used to do. Unlike that report, though, the new Pew report attempts to figure out how they feel about the various activities tracked: housework, leisure, child care and work.
Happy but tired
Moms and dads give similar answers when it comes to finding "meaning" in spending time with their children or at work. But when it comes to both housework and leisure time, moms say it's more meaningful than dads do.
Time with kids not only counted as meaningful, but also scored high on the happiness meter.
"Parents on average report that they are 'very happy' in 35 percent of their child-care activities, compared with 19 percent of their paid work-related activities," the analysis says. "In fact, the happiness level that parents experience during their time caring for children is only slightly lower than it is during their leisure time (41 percent rated that as very happy)."
Still, while more parents say caring for children is more rewarding, it's also more exhausting than an outside job: 12 percent characterize it that way, compared with 5 percent who say the same of the job. And moms, especially, feel that way.
"Moms are more exhausted than dads in all the major activities that we have studied," said the report's author, Wendy Wang, research associate at Pew. "The reason probably has to do with the amount of work mothers devote to child care and housework.
"Moms are doing more heavy-duty care activities — feeding, dressing, physical care. They are doing more educational care, helping with homework, and managerial — organizing and planning events with kids, attending school events, picking them up and dropping them off. It is only in recreational activities where we see the smallest gap," she said.
Parents sometimes refer to taking care of their kids as stressful, said Wang, but when it's measured in comparison to paid work, housework and even leisure activities, "it turned out that child care may not be as stressful as people think." Parents only rate 3 percent of child care activities as "very stressful," which is lower than the paid-work activities. In more than half of the activities related to child care, both moms and dads said they're "not stressed at all," while at work, only one in five activities are not in the least stressful.
The age of the children was not noted for this analysis.
Here and abroad
Wang noted that moms are still doing "almost twice as much housework as dad on average."
A similar finding has been made repeatedly not only in other studies, but in other countries, too.
A July report by the Economic and Social Research Council on its most recent European Social Survey noted that "one of the greatest social changes across Europe in recent decades has been the increase of women in the labor market. However, changes in women’s work patterns have not always been matched by changes in the division of household tasks between the sexes."
Among other facts about European households, the report noted that women do most of the housework, even if they work full-time. The division of household labor is most equal in Nordic countries. The most helpful males when it comes to pitching in around the house are in Sweden, it said.
The 2010 breakdown used in the Pew report shows that dads are more likely to do household repairs and jobs like mowing the lawn and working on the car. They put in four hours a week on such endeavors, compared to mom's one. But mom racks up "many more housework hours in terms of cleaning, cooking and household management," Wang said. Moms spend 15 hours a week on those tasks, compared to dad's five.
Dads, according to the U.S. time-use study, have three hours more leisure time a week than moms, on average. "Dads actually use their additional three hours on TV-watching," said Wang.
As for work, dads spend significantly more hours each week in paid work than moms did, averaging a full-time 40 hours, compared to her 23 hours. Both moms and dads spend about two hours a week in recreational childcare activities.
The data is collected in a "time diary," a sequential look at activities and how long they took. Participants reported it in 17 major time-use categories, the report said, and it is then subdivided into more than 400 detailed sub-categories or episodes.
Next up, Wang said, she intends to look at parent activities over the course of the entire 24-hour day, including sleeping time and personal care time.
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