Op-eds and putting in the extra hours

I recently signed on to volunteer with the Op-Ed Project, a non-profit organization which seeks to increase the number of columns written by women. According to director Catherine Orenstein, 85 percent of op-eds in the major US newspapers are written by men.

I have been pondering exactly why this might be, and have two explanations. First, being willing to write a column that you hope a gatekeeper will approve and thousands of people will read requires believing that the market for your ideas is brisk. For a variety of reasons, I think this may be a more male frame of mind than a female one (with exceptions of course — I suffer from many faults, but a lack of confidence is not one of them).

But second, and probably most importantly, most op-ed writers don’t write op-eds for a living. They do something else — academia, politics, business, science, etc. — and write op-eds to share their ideas, join the national conversation, and make a name for themselves. It is always something extra. That is, writing an op-ed is something you do on top of the things in your job description that are immediately and explicitly rewarded.

This requires that you both be serious about advancing your career–making an investment now for a future payoff–and that you put in the extra hours to do so. Women are less likely to work these extra hours. According to the American Time Use Survey, in married couples with kids in which both parents work full-time, moms do 5.14 hours of work or work-related activities per day. This is about 36 hours per week. Dads do 5.98 hours per day, or just shy of 42 hours.

Some of that difference, of course, may be because moms do additional childcare, even in 2-income families. But that accounts for only half of the discrepancy, and according to time logs, while moms do more of the physical care of children, in 2-income couples, dads actually spend more time playing with their kids than moms do. Moms do quite a bit more housework than dads, and devote more time to personal care as well–which suggests a simple solution for getting in more work hours. Hold yourself to the same housework and personal care standards as the man in your life and, voila!

But more fundamentally, we live in a world in which, for a variety of reasons, many moms have convinced themselves that working less is the key to work/life balance. According to one recent Pew poll, 60% of moms in the work-force say that part-time work would be ideal for their situation. What this means is that most moms with full-time jobs are not looking for ways to work more hours. Since the extra hours on the margins is when most op-ed writing would have to occur, this probably explains the discrepancy.

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