The Difference Between Working Moms and Working Dads

When I had my first child I was working at Microsoft as a Group Program Manager. I managed about 20 people, and was leading a 300-person project for Windows. When I was pregnant, 6 of my co-workers were expecting babies within a few months of me. We joked how we had all celebrated the release of our previous product 9 months earlier the same way. I was pleased that I wasn’t alone – that so many of my co-workers would be juggling being a parent and working at Microsoft all at the same time I was. We were all in this together.

There was one big difference, though. Those 6 co-workers were all men.

During that first year of being a mom and working at Microsoft, it became obvious how different my experience was as a new parent because I had a husband who also worked full-time at Microsoft. The new joke was between me and my husband – we agreed what I needed was what all 6 of my co-workers had: a wife.  Someone to be home by default when the baby was sick and couldn’t go to daycare. Someone to do all the laundry that piled up. Someone with time to do the grocery shopping during the day instead of cramming it into colicky evenings and precious, crowded weekends. Someone who would automatically be there for the baby when my work schedule changed and didn’t fit nicely into daycare hours. Someone who could schedule and then make it to pediatrician appointments without rescheduling meetings or asking permission from a boss. Someone with time to shop for new clothes every few months as the baby grew so fast! Someone to do all of the ill-defined but super time-consuming tasks when raising a human: learning what foods to give them, what books and toys to have, how to handle food allergies or sleep issues or whatever pops up with your child. Someone to provide all of the breastmilk for daycare without it requiring additional hours of pumping every day.

We agreed what I needed was what all 6 of my co-workers had: a wife. 

I wasn’t on equal footing with my co-workers. It wasn’t until my husband and I lived through it that we understood how different it is for working moms vs working dads. My male co-workers didn’t see it. They knew my son was in daycare, and figured that was the equivalent of their babies being with their wives. They continued to reference how we were all going through the same thing. But it’s wasn’t the same.

What the Numbers Say

I decided to do some research. It turns out my experience wasn’t unusual. Working dads are way more likely than working moms to have a spouse at home at least part-time to make it easier for them to focus on work.

The green areas in the graph on the left show that about 43% of working dads have a wife at home at least part-time to support them and the family and allow them to focus at work. The green areas in the graph on the right show that about 8% of working moms have a husband at home taking care of things so that they can focus at work. Dads are 5 times more likely to have solid support at home.

All data comes from the Bureau of Labor and Statistics. Click here for details.

Working moms are also significantly more likely (3 times as likely) to be single parents (yellow slice). Of the households where mom works, in 28% of them mom is single, so there is no spouse available to help her manage family life.  Of the households where dad works, only 9% of those dads are single dads who are managing working and kids all on their own.

Division of Labor

From the orange slice above, we can see that women are also more than 1 1/2 times as likely than men to have a spouse who is also working full-time (64% of moms vs 48% of dads)

To add to this imbalance, data from Pew Research show that even when both parents work full time, moms end up doing more of the childcare and housework.  

When both parents work full-time, mom is still more likely to:

  • Volunteer at school
  • Do meal planning, shop for groceries, and cook
  • Do the laundry and kids’ clothes shopping
  • Get kids up, fed, dressed, and out the door in the mornings
  • Get kids bathed and in bed in the evenings
  • Track and make kids’ medical appointments, research and choose doctors, take kids to their appointments and stay home with them when they’re sick
  • Choose and sign up for kid activities, arrange and drive carpool
  • Buy kids’ friends’ birthday presents
  • Handle holiday celebrations, including coordinate with extended family, buy presents as needed, clean, shop, and cook
  • Find and hire babysitters
  • Read school newsletters, sign permission slips, track grades, help with homework, and communicate with teachers
  • Plan, book, pack, and unpack for family vacations

The Reality For Working Moms

Although on the face of it it seems like working moms and working dads are on a level playing field, we need to recognize that for the vast majority of women, that’s not the case. 92% of working moms are either single parents or have a husband who works full time. The same is true for only slightly more than half of working dads.

The fact that working moms have less support at home than working dads contributes directly to their lower pay, the lack of equivalent career advancement, and their decreased representation in government, at fortune 500 companies, and in general in the high power spaces where decisions get made. We need to recognize that working dads have significantly more support at home than working moms do to allow them to pursue and advance their careers.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this in the almost 20 years since I left Microsoft out of frustration at not being able to balance my career there with being a mom. I still don’t know for sure what the answer is, but my best advice is to get dads to lean in more at home. I think that will achieve two goals. It will give women more opportunities to be competitive at their workplaces because they will have more support at home just like their male counterparts do. And I think workplaces will learn to bend for dads who are trying to be more involved at home in a way that they haven’t for moms, and that increased flexibility would benefit all parents.

If you’re interested in what it looks like for dads to lean in, here are some other articles I’ve written that address this topic:

Why Dads Should Take Paternity Leave – Alone

Working Part-Time

Dads and Nighttime Feedings

Dads Cooking Dinner – At least 1 night/week

Dads Can Volunteer At School Too

Shared Email Address

Shared Online To Do List

Shared Online Calendar

Shared Online Packing List

Here are some good articles on this topic written by others:

The Motherhood Penalty vs Fatherhood Bonus

Kids Don’t Damage Women’s Careers, Men Do

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