American mothers are multitasking for 48.3 hours each week, compared to 38.9 hours working fathers put in, researchers from Michigan State University reported in American Sociological Review. They add that women find multitasking a negative experience, compared to fathers who say that for them the experience is a positive one.

Co-investigator, Professor Barbara Schneider said:

“This suggests that working mothers are doing two activities at once more than two-fifths of the time they are awake, while working fathers are multitasking more than a third of their waking hours.”

Lead author, Shira Offer, said:

“For mothers, multitasking is – on the whole – a negative experience, whereas it is not for fathers. Only mothers report negative emotions and feeling stressed and conflicted when they multitask at home and in public settings. By contrast, multitasking in these contexts is a positive experience for fathers.”

The researchers gathered data from the 500 Family Study, which focused on how middle-class households balance work and family experiences. Data was collected from 1999 to 2000 on families from eight US communities – in both urban and suburban areas. The Offer-Schneider study used a randomly selected sub-sample, consisting of 241 fathers and 368 mothers – they were all double-income households.

52.7% of the mothers’ multitasking episodes that occurred at home involved housework, versus 42.2% for the fathers’ – more specifically, 35.5% of the mothers’ home-based multitasking involved childcare, compared to 27.9% for the fathers.

As the mothers’ activities are scrutinized more frequently by outsiders, particularly when it occurs at home or in public view, the authors believe this is why they tend to view such chores as a more negative experience.

Schneider said:

“At home and in public are the environments in which most household- and childcare-related tasks take place, and mothers’ activities in these settings are highly visible to other people. Therefore, their ability to fulfill their role as good mothers can be easily judged and criticized when they multitask in these contexts, making it a more stressful and negative experience for them than for fathers.”

A working father does not usually have to put up with these kinds of pressures, they added.

The answer is a simple one, the authors wrote. Fathers need to help out more. They added that employers and policymakers can help make this happen.

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Fathers need to help out more, the authors say

Offers said:

“Policymakers and employers should think about how to alter current workplace cultures, which constitute serious obstacles when it comes to getting fathers more involved in their families and homes.

“For example, I think that fathers should have more opportunities to leave work early or start work late, so they can participate in important family routines; to take time off for family events; and to limit the amount of work they bring home, so they can pay undivided attention to their children and spouse during the evening hours and on weekends.

The goal is to initiate a process that will alter fathers’ personal preferences and priorities and eventually lead to more egalitarian norms regarding mothers’ and fathers’ parenting roles.”

Written by Christian Nordqvist