How single-income families spend their time

3074916976_3c1ec1e640_mLast week, the Pew Research Center released a lengthy report on how parents spend their time, now and in the past. I posted on Thursday about whether women would earn more if they did less at home. Today I want to look at another interesting part of the report, on how married couples with one income spend their time.

We can think of such families as “traditional” (dad works, mom stays home) or “reverse traditional” (mom works, dad stays home). The former are more common than the latter, though neither are that common; the majority of parents these days are in the workforce to some degree or another.

Anyway, the Pew Research Center analyzed findings from the American Time Use Survey, and produced some interesting insights on how much time parents in such families devote to work, childcare, and housework.

Total workweeks (adding “market” and “non-market” work) in dual-income households with kids at home are surprisingly similar. Fathers work 58.0 hours per week and mothers work 58.6. The split is different: fathers work 41.6 hours for pay and mothers work 30.9, while housework is split 9.4/15.7 and childcare is split 7.0/11.9. But the total workloads are surprisingly similar.

This is not the case in single-income households — both for those with male breadwinners and female breadwinners.

In traditional families, the father has a total work week of 56.7 hours, whereas the mother has a work week of 45.8 hours. Fathers work 42.5 hours for pay, do 7.6 hours of housework, and 6.5 hours of childcare. Mothers do 0.6 hours of paid work, 25.5 hours of housework, and 19.7 hours of childcare. In such families, fathers have 25.5 hours of leisure time per week and mothers have 29.2 hours.

Such traditional families turn out to be the only families in which moms have more leisure time than dads. When mothers are the breadwinners in reverse traditional families, they do 35.1 hours of paid work. They do 14.1 hours of housework and 8.9 hours of childcare. The fathers in such households do 3.4 hours per week of paid work (I’ll discuss this below), 17.9 hours of housework and 11.3 hours of childcare. This gives them a total workweek of 32.6 hours, vs. 58.1 hours for their wives. Stay-at-home fathers have 42.8 hours of leisure time per week, vs. 22.7 for their wives.

(The whole chart is on p. 47 of 68 in the study)

These are interesting numbers, with a few things I noticed.

Having a stay-at-home wife doesn’t really change a father’s home load or total work hours. Indeed, such fathers work less than one hour more for pay per week than fathers in dual-income couples. They spend about 2 hours less on housework, and half an hour less on childcare. There’s a narrative that if a woman stays home it frees her husband up to work more, but on average that doesn’t seem to be the case from a time perspective.  

Being a stay-at-home parent does buy you more leisure time. This is probably not true when kids are very young. But by the time they’re out of the baby stage, more time opens up. Mothers are more likely to fill potential leisure time with housework than stay-at-home fathers.

SAHDs look a lot like moms in dual-income households, from a perspective of how much time they spend on childcare and housework.

Breadwinner mothers do a bit less housework and childcare than moms in dual-income couples do, but the difference is not huge. As a result, such women have less leisure time than their partners. While stay-at-home moms have more leisure time than their husbands, the difference is not as pronounced as in reverse traditional couples.

So what’s going on here? To a degree, mothers — even those who are single-earners in their families — may still see housework and childcare as their jobs. They aren’t as willing to delegate this to their husbands, or their husbands aren’t as interested in taking on some of this work (particularly on the housework front — which may reflect different standards between men and women).

It may also be that some chunk of reverse traditional families wound up in this situation not entirely by choice. Dad may have lost a job, and the 3.4 hours of paid work for these supposed single-income families may reflect job searching or consulting, and the 35 hours of paid work for mom (vs 42 for breadwinner dads) may not reflect the mindset of someone who intended to be a breadwinner from the outset. Whereas in traditional families, perhaps mom sees housework and childcare as her chosen profession, and so these numbers are higher and the paid work number is pretty close to zero.

I will admit, though, that I’m just speculating in that last paragraph. Why do you think SAHDs might spend their time differently than SAHMs, and breadwinner mothers spend their time differently than similar fathers?

Photo courtesy flickr user Inha Leex Hale

25 thoughts on “How single-income families spend their time

  1. I’m the female breadwinner in a reverse traditional family (RTF). SAHDs are an entirely different breed than SAHMs — the lack of traditionalism in an RFT carries through to all aspects of family life. I am utterly unsurprised by the statistics. Although working mothers are acceptable and even becoming traditional, being the female breadwinner in an RTF is atypical. I speak only for myself, but I have two jobs: (1) breadwinner and (2) mother. When I finish job 1, I go home and do job 2. There is an implicit questioning of your femininity and mothering when you are the breadwinner, that I suspect is not as extreme for women in a dual earner household.

  2. I was hoping for single income, single PARENT family information. I worked with a widowed mother of 10 children, and I always wondered how she did it.

    1. @TG- there’s some info in the report on single mothers. Definitely worth a read if you’re interested in the topic.

  3. Have you read “The End of Men” by Hanna Rosin? She talks about the phenomenon of SAHDs not doing housework and doing less childcare and kind of marvels at it.

    At the moment I’m a sole breadwinner (not by choice, my husband has been job hunting since the beginning of January) and still do the bulk of childcare because I homeschool, but I will say that my husband has been doing most of the housework because I’m supposed to be on partial bed rest due to some pregnancy issues. I think that if the bed rest wasn’t an issue, it wouldn’t occur to him to do the housework unless I asked specifically, and it might not occur to me to ask. I guess that’s a leftover from both of us being raised in very traditional mom-does-all-housework families. If this becomes a long-term reality, we’ll need to renegotiate who does what around the house (and maybe we should anyway).

    1. @Catherine – I think bed rest sounds like a good reason to re-negotiate everything! Hope you are doing OK.

  4. When it comes to housework, I do more than my husband does, largely, I think, because he was never shown how to do housework, so he almost never does what I consider to be a complete job. When he cleans the kitchen, he clears the table and loads the dishwasher, but he does not wash counters or stove top; he does not sweep; he does not wash off the place mats. When he cleans a bathroom, he doesn’t clean counters, mirrors, or floors. My husband is not a slob, but he doesn’t seem to “see” the mess the way I do. It takes me longer, of course, to do the tasks completely, in the way that I expect they should be done; but he would argue that he is doing his fair share and I’m being too persnickety.

    1. @D. Lane – I think the differing opinions on what is “complete” is responsible for a big chunk of the bad feelings and conflicts over housework. But I don’t think the more demanding party’s opinion is automatically right. Does the stove top have to be cleaned daily? I’d say no. Other people might say yes. If a 1x/week person lives with a 7x/week person, the 1x person is not going to want to start doing it 3-4x/week just because the other person says so. Of course, the 7x/week person is going to be mad because he/she is doing it 6x/week and the other party is only doing it 1x. If that, because our 1x party might assume he/she should do half of his/her standard (so 0.5x/week).

  5. I was raised in a very traditiona SAHM family. I think that my mom felt the need to “pile on” a *lot* of (unpaid) work because she was “just a housewife.” Never mind that she homeschooled me and my sister and did the bulk of the housework (Dad did car stuff and outside stuff; Mom did everything else) and (in later years) became a caretaker for my Grandparents, she felt like she should always be doing more.

    So, she devoted hours and hours (and hours!) to church stuff and other volunteer types of things, because after all, she “wasn’t doing anything” and “was at home all the time.” I think the problem was that she didn’t put a value on her own time. Technically, yes, those hours of volunteer work were “leisure time” (in the sense that she was chooing to donate her time to her church), but it sure didn’t feel like it!!

    Once she started working for pay (when I was in college), I think she realized that time really isn’t as elastic as she had thought – you do have to make choices and prioritize and say no sometimes. From my perspective, her job made her more balanced.

  6. I don’t know… But havng lived your last paragraph… I agree with Kathy and do know that huge disparity is a part of the reason I am now a single working mom, instead.

  7. I am glad to see statistic backing up how I’ve felt. I wish I’d given my husband a job description when he started staying home three years ago. We never had a conversation about changing tasks, and though he does do dinner, I still do all the grocery shopping and meal planning. He also asks me to make calls during the day – saying it’s too hard to be on the phone with kids around. I think one reason for the disparity is that men are not good multitaskers.

    1. @Alissa- it is kind of hard to make phone calls with kids around! But yes, discussions are good. When we don’t specifically spell out tasks, it’s easy to revert to traditional roles that we grew up with or that we absorb from society more generally.

  8. Huh. Makes me wish I had done a time study when I was home with young kids. I felt like I worked all the time. Obviously, I didn’t – I read during nap time (for sanity), I talked with other moms while our kids played or we spent fun days at the zoo or some other outing.

    Perhaps my “overwork” was psychological. Because I was home, I took on the daily, non-optional tasks (meal prep, diaper changes, getting up with kids in the middle of the night) and my husband was responsible for things that he could fit in on the weekend or after the kids went to bed (bill paying, oil changes, etc.)

    Now that we both work full-time, I still do the daily grind things (although thankfully, my kids don’t wake me up in the middle of the night any more.) My kids do more housework, so I probably do less.

    Part of the differences can be how “work,” “leisure” and “child care” are defined. I’m sure self-reporting leads to inconsistencies. I know I do not view my husband’s three hours of research on brands of TV as work, so that he can watch more football on Sunday. My husband does not see visiting an elderly relative in the hospital as work for me, even though I view it as an obligation not as leisure.

    After this long in our marriage, we’ve figured things out and a time study would probably say we’re about equal in the amount of time we do house work – only because I have learned I can go to lunch with friends on a Saturday instead of staying home to help my husband clean the gutters. I go guilt-free knowing that I’ve already cooked 6 dinners, done 6 loads of laundry, and driven kids to practices and ortho appts.

    1. @Marci- I’d agree that 3 hours spent researching TV brands may not be work. The good news about time diary studies is that while they do rely on self-reporting, they tend to be more accurate than simply asking people how much they work, or watch TV, or do childcare. It’s recorded — what happens next, what happens next — in a way that forces all activities to fit within the bounds of 24 hours.

  9. I’m the primary wage-earner but we both work full-time. I fully agree with Kathy at the first comment – it’s quite clear to me that being the primary breadwinner (I earn about 3 times what my husband does) makes me not-a-real-girl – and makes my husband not-a-real-boy. Doing home stuff and kid stuff can be seen as emasculating, and NOT doing it as unwomanly – slouching on the job.

    In the end, men don’t do it because they don’t do it, and we don’t call them on not doing it. I won’t put up with the not-doing, and my husband was raised not just knowing how to do housework but believing that it was his job as much as anyone else’s. And we still talk about it frequently and renegotiate it every year or so.

  10. I agree about the necessity to talk about single folks (without kids), single parents (and dads might be different than moms), not to mention gay and lesbian couples. The gender dynamics of married couples with kids are interesting as GENDER issues, but they really aren’t universally enlightening about TIME USE, if that makes sense.

  11. Fascinating. In the last year, we’ve flipped from SAHD to SAHM (sort of, anyway since I was working part-time). Even in the 3 weeks I’ve been doing this SAHM gig, I’ve noticed I do a lot more *daily* chore stuff around the house than my husband did when he was home. But that’s the nature of our personalities. I can’t deal with visual clutter, and I need clean clothes sooner than he does. So I’ve been loading the dishwasher 5-6x a week, while he’d do it maybe twice.

    I also do a lot more clutter removal/organizing stuff spontaneously, because it’s the kind of thing that bugs me, and he’s more of a packrat.

    So for us, it’s definitely personality-based, not a gender role thing. Things just bug me more/sooner than they do him.

    1. @ARC- It may not be consciously gender-based, but if a higher percentage of women were bothered by visual clutter than men, would that make it gender-based anyway?
      From interviews and anecdotes, my impression is that many SAHDs just do not consider housework a vital part of that role. They signed on to take care of the kids. They didn’t sign on to spend their time vacuuming. That’s negotiated (or not) separately. It might be a good way for moms to approach that role too!

  12. ooh, and one other thing – I’m not quitting so hubby can spend *more* time working/advancing his career. In our family, we made the decision to have someone around for the foreseeable future so we don’t have to rely heavily on outside child care. But that doesn’t mean it has to be ME all the time while hubby works 60+ hour weeks. Someday I’ll go back to work and he’ll tag out again.

  13. Late to the conversation here, but my DH is a SAHH/D and he definitely does more housework than me (a low bar to exceed, it must be said) but I am more engaged with childcare, though it is possible — not obvious — that I spend less outright time on it.

    Hmmm. 4 days/week DH gets DS after school and keeps him until I am home, about a 3.5 hour interlude. Basically if I am home I am mostly the go-to parent for care, and there are about 2 hours from when I get home until DS is in bed. This is a matter of DH being tired by the time I get home (truthfully I find time with DS MUCH more exhausting than time at work/commuting, so I am down with that), DS preference, and my preference (sort of: not inherent, but I am more engaged with DS and much less inclined to e.g. allow screen time so am motivated to provide rules and/or attention). These preferences extend to weekends (except that I take most of one weekend day out of the house by myself (usually) to do “my stuff” — often, ride horses, and DH takes a big chunk of one day for “his stuff,” which is golf (he also plays golf one weekday which is the day he doesn’t get DS from school — grandma does).

    DH is pretty good at/about doing stuff out of the house with DS but not great in the house or with indoor activities (e.g. I will take DS to the indoor pool to swim, DH will not), which is leaving me feeling burdened particularly since DS is going through a heavy screen-use (Wii, mostly) phase, which I am *not* down with and DH is entirely indifferent to. I I am very much looking forward to warmer weather.

    1. @bogart – The different preferences on screen time is something we have issues with in this house. I would like to limit it. Other parties care less. Yes, good thing the warm weather is almost here!

  14. Doesn’t seem too surprising, but it is nice to have concrete details to back up suspicions. What DOES surprise me is a purely personal bit — that I spend that much time above the average on childcare, even with my happy easygoing baby. Above mothers in traditional families, too. I had no idea. Now I don’t feel as guilty about not *wanting* to spend even more time on it. Though of course nursing is a really big portion. Still. I feel good about it now. My time on housework is tiny, but I knew that already.

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