In the Work-Life Struggle, Who Is Happier—Mom or Dad?
Research reveals which parent is more stressed, more fatigued and less happy.
Posted Jun 19, 2018
Today most mothers and fathers face juggling aspects of work and family life trying to achieve that ever-elusive work-life balance. Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon, has his own view: He thinks work-life balance is a “debilitating phrase because it implies there’s a strict trade-off. And the reality is, if I am happy at home, I come into the office with tremendous energy.”
However you view it, working and raising children is a struggle. An analysis of 350 studies, involving more than 250,000 subjects by researchers at the University of Georgia, confirmed that both fathers and mothers deal with work-family conflict.
Most mothers work outside of the home these days. According to Pew Research Center, “seven-in-ten moms with kids younger than 18 were in the labor force in 2014, up from 47% in 1975.” Consequently, fathers are more involved with their children than the archetypal American dad, a la Ward Cleaver from “Leave it to Beaver” or Don Draper from “Mad Men.” The Pew Research Center tells us that today’s dads spend almost three times the hours a week tending to their offspring as compared to dads in 1965. They’re involved in the childrearing from the beginning, including reading pregnancy and baby-care books. But, are mothers or fathers more content with their dual roles and why?
Who is Happier?
The Boston College Center for Work and Family points out that most dads—be they Baby Boomers, Generation Xers or Millennials—feel split between their families and jobs, even though they want to care for children as much as their spouses do. The researchers note a refreshing shift from the dads of eras past: “The old stereotype of fathers being career-centric parents and somewhat emotionally detached from family does not describe today’s fathers.”
The culture of individual workplaces is crucial to whether families feel balanced, but parental leave still favors mothers. Researchers at the University of Michigan and California State University Channel Islands found that both parents see work-life balance as necessary. Yet, when men’s workplaces are not flexible, the researchers say, “These sanctions devalue men who engage in activities synonymous with femininity, discourage men from using leave and flexible work accommodations to help carry the childcare load, and reinforce the traditional gender division of labor that serves as the basis of employers’ stereotypes about mothers.”
A recent article at Fatherly.com underscores the predicament fathers face: “While paid leave increases for dads, many don't take it”…“men feel pressured not to use this benefit.” This in spite of the fact that the average amount of paid paternity leave time increased from four weeks in 2015 to 11 weeks in 2017, according to Fatherly.com data.
Although more speak up for equitable father benefits and fathers are more involved with their children—in terms of parents’ happiness and well-being, it turns out that mothers are more stressed, less happy, and more tired than fathers. An American Sociological Review report notes that the differences, though small, can be attributed to the types of activities mothers and fathers engage in with their children. For example, the authors of the report concluded that “mothers spend more time with children in relatively onerous activities like basic childcare, childcare management, cooking, and cleaning, whereas fathers spend more time in activities high in enjoyment and low in stress, like play and leisure.”
In spite of the frustration of parenting’s push and pull between needing to be at work and wanting more time with their children, both mothers and fathers enjoy being parents, but there is difference between how each experience his or her parental role and time spent with their children. Mothers are still far more likely to engage in the drudgery and more traditional aspects of parenting that their mothers and grandmothers assumed. Until that changes, dads will have an edge on overall happiness and contentment.
Copyright @2018, 2019 by Susan Newman
Burnett, Jane (2018). “Amazon’s Jeff Bezos on why work-life balance is ‘a debilitating phrase’”. Chicago Tribune. Highlights from May interview in Berlin.
Harrington, Brad and Fraone, Jennifer Sabatini. (2017). “The New Dad: The Career-Caregiving Conflict.” Boston College Center for Work & Family Life.
Musick, Kelly, Meier, Ann and Flood, Sarah. (2016) “How Parents Fare: Mothers’ and Fathers’ Subjective Well-Being in Time with Children.” American Sociological Review: Vol. 81(5) 1069–1095.
Parker, Kim and Livingston, Gretchen. (2017). “6 facts about American fathers.” Pew Research Center.
Shockley, K. M., Shen, W., DeNunzio, M. M., Arvan, M. L., & Knudsen, E. A. (2017). “Disentangling the Relationship Between Gender and Work–Family Conflict: An Integration of Theoretical Perspectives Using Meta-Analytic Methods.” Journal of Applied Psychology: Vol. 102, No. 12, 1601–1635.
Calechman, Steve. (2018). "Old Managers, Old-School Expectations, and Why Men Don’t Take Paternity Leave." June 17. Fatherly.com.