In previous generations men and women filled very defined gender roles. Men went to work every day and women stayed home to take care of their children.
In the typical family today, both spouses go to work and divide up child care responsibility. If you ask them many educated, affluent couples might say the division of labor is equal. But researchers who did, in fact, ask found that's usually not the case.
Researchers at Ohio State University were specifically interested in how the birth of a first child changed a couple's workload. When asked directly, men and women both estimated the first child increased their daily work responsibilities an average of 4 hours.
Then the researchers asked all the participants to keep detailed diaries accounting for their time. The diaries told a different story.
What the diaries showed
First, both spouses overestimated their increased workload – but by widely varying amounts. Women only had to work an extra two hours each day, not four. But men, it turns out, only put in an extra 40 minutes a day.
“Women ended up shouldering a lot more of the work that comes with a new baby, even though both men and women thought they added the same amount of additional work,” said Claire Kamp Dush, Ohio State assistant professor and co-author of the study.
The study also uncovered the fact that, before the first baby was born, couples were sharing the work around the house pretty evenly. Study co-author Jill Yavorsky says the addition of a baby to the household dramatically altered the division of labor.
No longer equal
“What was once a relatively even division of household work no longer looked that way,” she said.
The findings came out of The New Parents Project, which is a long-term study trying to learn how dual-earner couples make the adjustment to becoming parents. And the couples profiled in the study weren't exactly average couples.
Participants had higher-than-average levels of education, both spouses had jobs and both said they planned to keep working after the child was born. These couples were selected for a very specific reason.
“These are the couples you would expect to have the most egalitarian relationships,” Kamp Dush said. “They have the education, the financial resources and the other factors that researchers have believed would lead to equal sharing of responsibilities. But that’s not what we found.”
What they found was that despite their professed intentions to equally divide domestic and childcare chores, men did about 10 hours a week of physical child care – the less fun work like changing diapers and bathing the baby. Meanwhile, women put in 15 hours per week.
Men do more of the fun stuff
Part of parenting is fun, like reading to the baby and playing. That's called “child engagement,” and here there's a much smaller gender gap. The diaries show men spent about 4 hours per week in child engagement while women spent about 6 hours.
At the same time, men cut back their housework by 5 hours per week but women did not reduce their housework to compensate for additional childcare work. Nor did they reduce their time at their job, the study shows.
It all adds up to longer days for a new mom.
“And the key is that this new routine seems to be that the woman is doing more of the housework and more of the child care, while not doing any less paid work,” Kamp Dush said. “The egalitarian relationship they had before the baby was born is essentially gone.”