Today’s USA Today highlights a new report from the Families and Work Institute which claims that fathers with kids at home are more likely to work longer hours than other men.
According to the USA Today piece, “These fathers work, on average, 47 hours a week, compared with 44 for men who either don’t have children or don’t live with them, or whose kids are older than 18. And 42% of the dads with kids under 18 at home work an average 50 or more hours a week; only 33% of the other men work such hours.”
It was impossible to tell from the story if these numbers were estimated work weeks or time diaries. When full-time workers estimate their workweeks, they are often very wrong. So I went over to the American Time Use Survey. There, we learn that employed fathers with kids under age 6 work 5.77 hours per day and spend 6.37 on “work and work-related activities” (which includes the commute). That’s 40.39 hours of work and 44.59 on “work and work-related activities” per week. Men with older children do about the same, 5.78 and 6.35. Men without children do 5.45 and 5.98, so the direction of the report is correct, if the workweek is a little shorter (a 40.39 hour workweek plus 4 hours commuting feels quite a bit different than a 47-hour workweek plus a commute). Men with kids at home work more than men without kids at home. This is the opposite from women. Women with kids at home work fewer hours (in the paid workforce) than women without kids.
These are profound gender differences, but of course, they’re probably all inter-related. A big reason men with kids might work more is that their wives aren’t working as many hours. Someone has to earn enough cash to support the family, and the difference between a 35 hour workweek and a 40 hour workweek can be pretty profound on that front. There are accelerating returns, at least for a bit, when you’re willing to go north of 40. Or perhaps men prefer working to childcare. Maybe women would like to work more, but someone has to leave work when the daycare calls and says that a child is sick. It’s really hard to know. We absorb cultural messages well, and men may feel that their contribution to their children is money, whereas women believe it is time. The truth is that kids need both.
But one thing that is interesting is that, averaged over all Americans with full-time jobs, the number of hours men and women work per week are starting to converge. The gap closed by half over the past year — which is kind of a profound difference when averaged over the thousands of people covered by the ATUS — so we may be seeing some shifting roles.