Working men have begun to shoulder a far greater share of responsibility for child care and household chores, according to a new survey.
The study, by the Families and Work Institute, a nonprofit research group based in New York, suggests that since 1977, when the Department of Labor conducted a similar study, there has been a gradual convergence in the way working men and women in the work force use their time."You look through all these numbers and you begin to hear a theme song about men and women," said Ellen Galinsky, president of the institute. "There are real changes in what men and women are doing. For example, men put in 30 percent as much time on workday chores as women in 1977, but now it's up to 75 percent. We see that gap closing in lots of different areas."
One surprising result of the survey, the largest and most comprehensive of its kind in recent years, is that despite the rise in dual-income families, children under 18 are getting somewhat more attention from their working parents than they did 20 years ago, mostly because of the change in fathers' behavior.
Ever since the 1970s, when large numbers of women entered the work force, working mothers have complained that they bore far too much of the load for the second shift, the hours of child care and household chores it takes to keep a family going.
What particularly irritated many working mothers was that while they were frantically cooking, cleaning and arranging play dates, working fathers were spending more time on themselves than on caring for their children, a perception borne out by the data from the 1977 survey. But the new survey shows that has changed: Working fathers now spend more time doing things with their children than they spend on themselves.
The survey authors caution that the time estimates are self-reported, and may be biased by workers' view of what the socially desirable response would be; the extent to which that bias may have changed, or been magnified, since 1977 is unknown. The authors also point out that time spent caring for children may overlap with time doing chores, like when a parent is talking to a child while doing the dishes.
But, they say, the data do seem to indicate a real shift in how much attention children of working parents are getting - although no effort was made to consider what parents actually do with their children in that time.
Still, 70 percent of working mothers and fathers say they do not have enough time to spend with their children. Despite the increased time men are putting in, 56 percent of employed mothers said they wished the fathers would spend more time with their children, and 43 percent wished the men would do more household chores.
The Families and Work Institute survey found that working fathers spend an average of 2.3 workday hours caring for, and doing things with, their children, a half-hour more than the average reported in the Department of Labor survey 20 years ago. Working mothers spend almost an hour more than the men with their children on workdays, but that time commitment has not changed significantly since 1977. On their days off, both working men and women are spending about an hour more with their children than they did 20 years ago, with women devoting about 8 hours, and men 6.
Men are also spending more time, and women less, on household work that they did 20 years - and both sexes spend less time on personal activities than they used to. Over the last 20 years, women's workday time on chores has decreased by about half an hour a day, to 2.8 hours, while men's time has increased by nearly an hour to 2.1 hours in 1997.
Men spend about an hour and a half on personal activities on an average workday, half an hour less than 20 years ago. And women have about an hour and a quarter of personal time a day, down a little less than a half hour since 1977.
Elder care was a widespread responsibility. A quarter of those surveyed had provided care to an elderly relative during the preceding year. More than one-third of them had reduced their work hours or taken time off to provide that care, and men were just as likely as employed women to have done so. Workers with elder care responsibility spend an average of nearly 11 hours a week providing assistance, with men and women putting in equal time.
"Eldercare is the demographic avalanche that's coming," Gal-in-sky said.
Employees generally are working 3.5 hours a week longer than they did 20 years ago - and 13 percent have more than one job.
On average, men work 49 hours a week while women, who are more likely to have part-time jobs, average 42. Men with children under 18 work slightly longer hours than other men, while women with children under 18 work fewer hours than other women.
Among men and women alike, 63 percent say they would like to work fewer hours, an increase of 17 percentage points since the Families and Work Institute asked the question in a 1992 survey.
The survey, conducted for the institute by Louis Harris and Associates, is the largest and most comprehensive recent study of its kind, based on 3,551 telephone interviews with a nationally representative sample of employed adults. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 2 percentage points. The 1977 survey, based on 1,515 face-to-face interviews, had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
Overall, the study found there was more negative spillover from job pressures onto home life than from family pressures into work life.
"Most of the early work-family programs companies put together were aimed at preventing family problems from spilling over into work," Galinsky said. "Companies would offer help with finding child care or elder care so employees' work performance would not be affected. But what we found is that the spillover usually goes the other way. We say, `It's the job, stupid.' Companies need to be looking for ways to address the stresses of work."
Employees have less sense of job security than in the past. Compared to the 1977 survey, more workers said their jobs required them to work very hard and very fast, and that they never had enough time to get everything done. Today's workers are also much more likely than their 1977 counterparts to bring work home.
On the positive side, the survey found that supervisors were more supportive and more willing to discuss family issues than in the past. Employees reported a surprising level of workplace flexibility: Almost half said they could choose, within some range of hours, when to start and end their workdays. And 19 percent said they spend part of their regular workweek working at home, while another 7 percent said they could do so if they wished.
The survey found that 85 percent of American wage and salaried workers live with family members and have day-to-day family responsibilities. Nearly half have children under 18 living with them, and nearly 1 in 5 employed parents is single. Among employed single parents, about 27 percent are men.
The rise in dual-income couples since 1977 has been dramatic: two-thirds of the married male employees with children under 18 now have employed spouses, compared with slightly under half in 1977. When one member of a dual-income family has to take time off to care for a sick child, 83 percent of mothers say they are likely to be the one to take time off; only 22 percent of the fathers make that claim.