Single Moms Spend Less Time on Chores, and Married Moms Are Frankly Not Surprised

A new study shows moms do more cooking, cleaning and laundry when there's a man in the house.

single moms do less chores
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May 14, 2019

You'd think moms with a partner in parenting would spend less time cooking, cleaning and doing laundry, because they have someone to share the load. But according to a new study, the opposite is true: Married moms and those with live-in male partners actually spend more time on household chores and get less sleep than single mothers doing it all by themselves.

According to the research, which was funded by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, single mothers not only spend fewer hours on housework and get more sleep than married mothers, but they also enjoy more leisure time. The study found that married moms were more likely to give up their "me" time so they could focus on household chores.

"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 (PRB). "What we don't know is why mothers feel compelled to do more housework when there's a man in the house."

The researchers in the study hypothesize it may be tied to social expectations for women with families.

"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 study coauthor Joanna Pepin, PhD. "These expectations likely stem from society's collective assumptions of what it means to be a wife and mother."

Gender norms are changing, though, and there are more female family breadwinners today than ever before. But a related study found that married moms who were the solo breadwinners still spend more time doing household chores than single moms—even when their partners are stay-at-home dads.

The reason for this, again, likely has to do with the social expectations for women with families. As study coauthor Noelle Chesley, PhD, put it, "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...That's not necessarily the case when the at-home parent is the father."

So what's a married mom to do? Experts agree everyone benefits when parents try to share the physical work that comes with raising kids. Some parents have gone as far as drawing up "baby-nup" contracts to divvy up household chores, but what works best will be different for every family. We'd recommend all moms indulge in a little R&R, and if you're doing this whole parenting thing with a male partner, tell him it's his turn to make dinner.

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