December 7, 2017
By Mona Chalabi
We have the figures: if you’re a woman who enjoys paid work or relaxing activities, having kids will cramp your style
It seems so obvious: having kids affects men and women differently. Sure, emotionally and financially but most clearly in the simple way mothers and fathers spend their time. And when you actually look at how 10,900 Americans carve up 24 hours, the conclusion is pretty stark: if you’re a woman who enjoys paid work or relaxing activities, having kids will cramp your style. Being married with kids also isn’t looking like a great idea according to the numbers.
To understand how the presence of offspring affects men and women, I looked specifically at US adults aged 25 to 54 who were in full-time employment. The data comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) which recently updated its American Time Use Survey. It’s the most detailed information we have about how people in the US spend their days.
On an average day, women who have children spend 54 minutes less of their time on job-related work than women who don’t have children. But men with kids work 25 minutes more each day than men that don’t. In other words, children seem to take women away from the office but drive men towards it.
Obviously averages differ a bit over the course of a week but for the purposes of this analysis, I just took the average day regardless of when it fell during the week or year.
I also tried to look at how marital status might affect some of these numbers but this is where things get a little tricky. See, the BLS doesn’t actually say that the differences in how Americans spend their time are because they have children. Some of these differences could be explained by other factors like age – the older you are, the more likely you are to have children and maybe as men get older they spend more time at work but as women get older they’re less likely to (meaning that it’s the job and not the presence of kids that affects work hours).
But to get back to the babies, these numbers change a lot with marital status. It’s not all dads that spend more time at work, it’s specifically the married ones. Unmarried fathers only spend an extra two minutes each day at work compared with childless men. And there’s a similar pattern for women too. Unmarried mothers spend less time at work than unmarried non-mothers (13 minutes less each day), but that’s a much smaller difference than the one for married mothers who spend a whopping 62 minutes less time at work every day than married, childless women.
Americans with children see their leisure time significantly reduced. Daily time spent participating in sports falls by nine minutes, reading by eight minutes, and TV time drops by 38 minutes. Those declines are similar for both men and women (which means they don’t even out pre-existing gender gaps: childless men spend 26 minutes more time watching TV in a typical day than childless women).
The BLS found that men with children under the age of six spend an extra one hour 32 minutes each day “caring for and helping household members” compared with childless men. Fair enough. But for women, having young children seems to add an extra two hours 10 minutes to their daily responsibility routine.
And that time category “caring for and helping household members” looks very different for unmarried parents compared with married ones. An unmarried man with a child under six spends an extra 30 minutes each day on household care than an unmarried man without a kid (that’s even a little more than unmarried women who only spend an extra 26 minutes on care compared with unmarried women without kids).
Again though, interpretation is tricky. Maybe the kind of heterosexual couples who believe in marriage also believe in more traditional gender roles that involve women bearing most of the responsibility for childcare. Or maybe married Americans are slightly wealthier than unmarried ones (we actually know that theory is true) which could affect their decisions about how much to work once they have children.
Even if men aren’t putting in as much time on childcare as women (more on that in a minute), they’re still spending some of their day on their kids and working more at the office, farm or factory than men without kids. How do they do it? By sleeping less – about 16 minutes less each day than men without young kids. For women, there’s barely any effect – mothers seem to spend just one minute less each day sleeping than women who don’t have children.
If that seems surprising, it’s all the more counterintuitive given that these numbers are just based on children that are under six years of age (ie the kids most likely to wake you up in the middle of the night because they can’t yet address their own thirst, hunger, existential anxiety etc). When you look at kids that are aged six to 17, fathers don’t sleep much less than men who don’t have kids but mothers sleep 16 minutes less each day than women who don’t have kids. Maybe teens are more stressful to women than men. Or, maybe this is again just an age thing – having older kids means you’re more likely to be older and we know that older women (especially those aged 35-44) sleep less than men their age.
Here too, marital status seems to matter – and it’s one of the few occasions when, statistically speaking, marriage looks appealing to women. Because married mothers don’t sleep less than married women without children but unmarried mothers sleep 14 minutes less each day than unmarried women without babies. That might not sound like much but remember, there are only 1,440 minutes each day and at least 420 of them are supposed to be spent sleeping. Every minute counts.
You can find all the data used to write this piece here. Please write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a voicemail at +1(503) 832-7563 if you have a question you’d like me to answer with numbers.