Study: Moms with husbands, live-in male partners sleep less, do more housework than single moms

MILWAUKEE -- Ahead of Mother’s Day Sunday, May 12, research funded by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development suggests that mothers with a husband or live-in male partner sleep less and do more housework than single mothers, despite having someone to share the load.

Even when a mom is the sole breadwinner, she doesn’t get a break from housework on her days off, doing three times as much cooking, cleaning and laundry compared to what sole-breadwinner fathers do on their days off, according to a related study, co-authored by Noelle Chesley, associate professor of sociology University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

A news release from UWM said according to the first study, "Marital Status and Mothers' Time Use," authored by professors at the University of Maryland and University of Southern California, both single mothers and partnered mothers spend roughly the same amount of time looking after their children, but married mothers are more likely to sacrifice their own leisure time and sleep to do housework as compared with single and divorced mothers.

“The idea that a mother does more housework when she has a partner or spouse may sound counterintuitive, but it’s the reality in most American households,” said demographer Linda Jacobsen, vice president of U.S. Programs at Population Reference Bureau in the release. “What we don’t know is why mothers feel compelled to do more housework when there’s a man in the house.”

One hypothesis, according to the release, is that married women are more sensitive to social expectations.

“Married women may feel that to be a good wife, they must prioritize housework and child care ahead of their own leisure and sleep,” said co-author Joanna Pepin of the University of Texas at Austin in the release. “These expectations likely stem from society’s collective assumptions of what it means to be a wife and mother.”

The other study, “Signs of Change? At-Home and Breadwinner Parents’ Housework and Child-Care Time,” showed that on an average work day, sole-breadwinner mothers spend about an hour on tasks like cooking and cleaning, while sole-breadwinner fathers spend only about 10 minutes.

While more and more men are staying at home and looking after the children, fathers may not feel the same social pressure to provide the family with home-cooked meals or clean the house as frequently, according to the researchers, UWM’s Chesley and Sarah Flood of the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities.

“When the at-home parent is the mother, there’s a clear expectation that she’ll be in charge of the family’s domestic life,” said Chesley, a UWM associate professor of sociology. “That’s not necessarily the case when the at-home parent is the father.”

The release said prior studies have compared time spent on housework between men and women, but this research is the first that focuses on single versus partnered women, and married couples with male versus female sole-breadwinners.

The study on single versus partnered women housework was co-authored by Pepin, Liana Sayer of the University of Maryland and Lynne Casper of the University of Southern California.

Researchers examined 24-hour time-use diaries from participants in the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ American Time Use Survey between 2003 to 2012, with a focus on mothers who are white, black, and Hispanic, ages 18 to 54, with at least one child under age 13 living with them. Their analysis considered weekday and weekend schedules, and other differences such as employment, education, age of children and the presence of other extended family members in the household.

The study comparing married couples with male versus female sole-breadwinners uses the same ATUS data and was conducted by Chesley and Flood. Their analysis controlled for a variety of characteristics including age, education, race, unemployment, income, retirement, disability and the number and ages of children in the household.