By: Heather Marcoux | September 02, 2021
"Labor Day began in the 1800s because factory workers were tired of working 70 hours a week. Here we are 200 years later and surveys still show that mothers report working nearly 100 hours a week, and don't get days off. And it's just getting worse.
Before the pandemic moms were tired and burned out. Now, we're desperate. According to the 2020 World Economic Forum the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in women around the world losing paid work hours while taking on more unpaid work.
Studies show the pandemic has resulted in moms working fewer hours in paid roles while dads have only reduced their hours by a statistically insignificant amount. We know millennial mothers are almost three times more likely than millennial fathers to report being unable to work due to a day care or school closure.
"Considering women already shouldered a greater burden for child care prior to the pandemic, it's unsurprising the demands are now even greater," says Gema Zamarro, senior economist at the University of Southern California's Center for Economic and Social Research. "While men are more likely to die from infection by COVID-19, overall the pandemic has had a disproportionately detrimental impact on the mental health of women, particularly those with kids."
Why the work of parenting is even more unequal during a pandemic
Today's mothers are spending more time doing paid work than previous generations did, but we're also spending more time on childcare. Today's fathers, too, are spending more time on childcare than previous generations, but there is a big difference in how moms and dads in heterosexual partnerships spend time with their kids.
This can be seen in the aftermath of COVID-19: In a 2020 study that looked at dual‐earner, heterosexual married couples with children, researchers found "the greater childcare and family demands brought on by day care and school closures throughout the pandemic appear to have caused a major reduction in work hours for mothers." Dads aren't seeing reduced work hours but are seeing the benefit of more time with their kids. Nearly 70% of fathers in the United States felt closer to their children during the pandemic than they did before the pandemic, according to research from Harvard. Meanwhile, pregnant women and moms with young children reported 3 to 5 times more anxiety and depression symptoms.
Why are dads happier now while moms are more stressed? It's in part because mothers are more likely to be doing unpaid care work while spending time with the children—the bathing, the cleaning, the feeding—while research finds that fathers' time with kids is more often spent on play and leisure activities.
If you're a dad, it might seem like having a spouse who does most of the household labor is a good deal (and a growing body of research does prove that fathers are happier parents than mothers) but the research also shows that dads want to be more than the fun, weekend guy because while care work is incredibly undervalued and unequal it can also incredibly fulfilling (if the carer is also allowed to rest).
Mom doing all the drudge work and handing out snacks while dad is at the office (or locked in his home office) sounds like an outdated notion, and that's because it is. When researchers at Boston College surveyed professional fathers in 2015, they found fewer than 5% of the fathers saw themselves as just a financial provider. The survey found most fathers believed they should share their children's caregiving equally with their spouses (but only about 30% said they were actually doing that)."
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