Do Fathers Work Longer Hours?

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.

4 thoughts on “Do Fathers Work Longer Hours?

  1. Having worked with well-paid hourly technicians, 95%+ male, for many years, I have to confirm that for many families it makes FAR more sense for one parent to work over 40 hours, at overtime pay, than to share financial duties more equally. Assuming our technician makes $24/hr up to 40 hr/week, 8 hours of overtime pay in a week earns $36*8 or $288 before taxes. This might be obtained by working half of a coworker’s shift (a 12 hr day) on Friday and Monday while the coworker takes a long weekend. (and another coworker has the same opportunity for overtime)

    Assuming the other parent makes 70% of the higher earning parent’s wages, parent #2, who normally works 20-30 hr/week, would have to work 17.1 hr ($288/$16.80/hr) to earn the same $288 before taxes.

    Overtime pay, in my opinion, is a significant factor in why families divide paid work the way they do.

    1. @Twin Mom – there often are big financial upsides to working those extra hours on the margins. I think the flipside to that, though, for modern families, is that we live in an uncertain economy. When each parent specializes too much (e.g. one gives up much of their income-earning potential due to very low labor force involvement) then you run the risk that a layoff for the primary breadwinner devastates the family financially, because the other parent isn’t able to step in and take over that role. A divorce, or disability could cause the same issue. So there is the question of optimizing for that as well.

      1. You’re right, but most people don’t think that way. Also, that interdependence precludes divorce to an extent. Many people would rather have a 90% chance at a $90,000 income (estimate from my example above) than a 95% at a $70,000 with a 100% chance of $35,000. (Each partner earning $35,000.)

  2. The above was a bit too much for me though I’d love to see it flushed out more in terms of what you two are debating here. If the man works so much over 40 hours though and you aren’t going to outsource parenting over say 50 hours a week… somebody — the woman — has to cut back on work… this is also why single parents– and let’s be honest most single parents are moms — tend to be poorer… Coming off a three-day “weekend” of the second shift in which I got some break from kids but very little I can vouch for this… Nobody works more overtime than the working mom. I kind of get annoyed with articles that act like women choose to work less. If your husband works more and parents less he does kind of force your hand unless you want to give over more and more to a nanny or grandparent and most parents would resist this as a good parenting strategy. The man’s second shift is crucial to women’s economic empowerment once they have children. fundamental.

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