I do love it when a study proves what we already know – that working women are brilliant multitaskers, and do much more multitasking than men – but new research shows just how stress working mothers are as a result of all this juggling.
Working mothers in the US multitask in the home for more than 40% of the time they’re awake: they do 48.3 hours compared to 38.9 hours for men, which the Offer-Schneider study says contributes to gender inequality because women are carrying the burden of housework, childcare, as well as bringing in an income.
The research shows that women engage in tasks that are more onerous: 52.7% of multitasking for working women involved housework, compared with 42.2% of fathers (though I think this number is rather high). And 35.5% of multitasking for women at home involved childcare, compared with 27.9% for fathers.
However, the significant point in this research is that multitasking at home and in public is a more negative experience for working mothers “because mothers’ activities are more susceptible to outside scrutiny”.
Study co-author Barbara Schneider, the John A. Hannah Chair and University Distinguished Professor in the College of Education and Department of Sociology at Michigan State University, said: “Mothers’ activities in are highly visible to other people. Therefore, their ability to fulfill their role as good mothers can be easily judged and criticised when they multitask in these contexts, making it a more stressful and negative experience for them than for fathers, who face less normative pressures and are under less scrutiny when they perform and multitask at home and in public.”
She recommends that fathers “step up” and do a bigger share of housework and childcare. And she recommends that policymakers and employers should create more opportunities for fathers to be involved with their families, such as allowing time off for family/school events, and not bringing work home with them – so that there can be “more egalitarian norms” for parenting roles.
However, the conclusion is that trying to do it all – to be superwoman – just isn’t making working mothers happy.