How Working Moms Differ From Working Dads

A common misconception about working moms is that they are on equal footing with working dads. We assume that if mom is working, the kids are in daycare or have a nanny, so moms who work are no different than dads who work.

Consider, though, what kind of support working moms and working dads have at home. It turns out working dads are much more likely to have solid support at home than working moms do. Notice in the green areas below that a much higher percentage of working dads are have a stay at home wife or a wife who only works part-time. Working dads are also less likely to be single parents (shown in yellow).

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

I learned this first hand when I worked full time at Microsoft and had my first child. Although 7 of the men on my team also had babies that summer, and they joked about all of us being in the same situation, we were not. All 7 of them had wives at home, whereas my husband worked full time at Microsoft just like me. As a result, I struggled more than all of my teammates to balance being a parent with working a full time job. I often quipped that I needed a wife at home to be truly in the same situation they were, but they really never understood how different it was for me.

Spouse At Home

Working dads who are married are almost 6 times more likely to have a stay at home spouse than working moms.

  • 29% of working dads have a stay at home wife
  • 5% of working moms have a stay at home husband.

Women are also more likely to work part-time, so even if both parents work, dads are almost 5 times as likely to have a wife who works just part-time, and is available at least part-time to manage family life (e.g. race out the door when the school calls about a sick kid). 

  • 14% of working dads have a wife who works part-time
  • 3% of working moms have a husband who works part-time.

Adding together the green slices, dads are 5 times as likely to be able to focus solely on work, put in extra hours, and generally not be pulled away to take care of home life because they have a spouse as backup to take care of those things.

  • 43% of working dads have a wife at home taking care of family life at least part-time
  • 8% of moms have a spouse at home (not daycare) managing things while they’re at work. 

Single Parents

Working moms are also significantly more 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 likely than men to have a spouse who is also working full-time. 

  • 64% of moms have a spouse who works full time
  • 48% of dads have a spouse who works full time

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

Working Moms Have Less Support At Home

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. More than one quarter of working moms are single moms, and another two thirds of them have a spouse who works full-time. For these women, more, if not all, of the childcare and housework falls to them.

The next time you are at work, look around the parents in the room and remind yourself that 92% of the moms you see are either single moms or have a husband who is working full-time.  The same is true for only slightly more than half the dads in the room.

Given this information, we shouldn’t be surprised that women make less than men, their careers advance more slowly, and they are less well-represented in government, in fortune 500 companies, and generally 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 a career.

The question is – should we try to address this, and if so, how?


One response to “How Working Moms Differ From Working Dads”

  1. […] that moms who work are 5 times less likely than working dads to have a spouse at home handling childcare and […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: