Time and Life

by Wendy Wang

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On weekends, dads find more time for leisure than moms

My latest contribution to the Pew Research Center’s blog- Fact tank.

It’s well documented that mothers do more child care and housework than fathers. But what about on the weekend, when both parents theoretically have more time for leisure?

Our new analysis of time use data shows a striking change of pace for moms and dads on Saturday and Sunday. Mothers take a little break from child care (but not housework) on the weekend. Fathers pick up more housework, and the amount of time they devote to child care is a lot closer to mothers’ on the weekend.

But when it comes to leisure, fathers take full advantage of the weekends. The “leisure gap” between fathers and mothers, which is quite modest on the weekdays, grows to a one hour difference on Saturdays and Sundays.

On average, dads spend half the amount of time on child care that mothers do. But this is true only during the week. With moms scaling back their time for child care, fathers’ child-care time is about three quarters that of mothers’ (73%) on the weekends. On weekends, fathers step it up with housework, doing nearly an hour more than they do during the week. While fathers spend less than half as much time as mothers (46%) on the weekdays doing housework, they spend 71% the amount of time of mothers on the weekends.

Overall, on the weekends, mothers scale back their time spent on child care by 29%, compared with the amount of time spent during a week day (1.5 hours per day vs. 2.1 hours). This is consistent with earlier research by Sayer, Bianchi, and Robinson.

recent Pew Research Center report found that stay-at-home mothers spend more time on child care and housework than working mothers. But the gap in child care is much narrower on the weekends than during the week, and working moms spend almost the same amount of time on housework as stay-at-home moms do on the weekends.

Working moms tend to use the weekend to clean up the house: They increase their time spent on this activity by about one hour during the weekends. At the same time, stay-at-home moms take a little break from household chores on weekends. And all mothers, whether working outside the home or not, have more time for leisure activities during weekends.

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The “leisure gap” between mothers and fathers

In America, fathers, on average, have about three hours more leisure time per week than mothers. This “leisure gap” has been consistent at least over the past decade. What are dads doing with their extra time? For the most part, they’re watching TV, according to new Pew Research Center analysis of data from the government-sponsored American Time Use Survey (ATUS).

leisure 1There is a large body of research devoted to studying leisure time. Some studies like those of time-use experts John P. Robinson and Geoffrey Godbey, use a broader measure of “free time,” which is the time left over after subtracting all hours spent in paid work, housework, childcare, and personal care.  Other studies, such as one by Mark Aguiar and Erik Hurst in 2007, focus more narrowly on the time explicitly devoted to recreational activities or relaxation.

Using the narrower definition of leisure, our analysis of the 2010 ATUS data finds that fathers with children under age 18 in the household on average spend about three hours more leisure time than mothers (27.5 hours per week vs. 24.5 hours per week).

Most of the gap is found in front of the television set. Fathers spend 2.8 hours more each week than mothers watching TV or using other media. Fathers also spend more time playing sports or exercising than do mothers, while mothers spend more of their leisure time in social activities such as attending or hosting parties.

While there are gender differences in these different types of leisure activities, TV watching is a primary leisure activity for both parents. Fathers spend about 64% of their leisure time watching TV or using other media. For mothers, the share is 60%.

leisure 2The ATUS not only asks people how they spend their time but also how they feel while they’re engaged in particular activities. Our analysis of this data shows that mothers find their leisure time to be more meaningful than do fathers. Mothers rate 63% of their leisure activities “very meaningful,” while fathers give a similar rating to about 52% of their leisure activities. Meanwhile, mothers feel more exhausted than fathers during their leisure time, and their stress level associated with leisure time is higher as well.

The fact that mothers feel more stressed and tired than fathers even during their leisure may have to do with the way they experience their time. Mothers’ free time is often interrupted, which may make it hard for them to relax, according to a study by sociologist Suzanne Bianchi and others. Moreover, a study by Shira Offer and Barbara Schneider found that mothers tend to spend more time than fathers in multitasking, and the additional hours spent on multitasking are mainly related to time spent on housework and child care.

For more information on how the time use data is collected and the classification of leisure activities, see our report on modern parenthood and parents’ feelings about their time.

This post was originally published on Pew Research Center’s blog- Fact tank.