In activities with children, mothers experience more stress, less happiness and more fatigue than fathers do, according to an analysis of data from 12,163 people who participated in the American Time Use Survey in 2010, 2012 and 2013. The findings show how parenting continues to be woven differently into the lives of men and women.

Both mothers and fathers feel happier and less stressed during activities with their children than they do when they’re not with their children. Yet there is a small but significant difference between mothers and fathers.

When the researchers, led by Kelly Musick at Cornell University, USA, examined the data in more detail, they were able to see that differences between mothers and fathers were linked to how they spend time with their children: mothers are more likely to be parenting solo without a partner at hand (49%, compared to 32% of fathers), and mothers are more likely to combine parenting with routine chores such as cooking and cleaning rather than with leisure activities. Indeed, most of the time that fathers look after children is combined with leisure activities.

The researchers also found that although women sleep more than men (27 more minutes per day on average), their sleep is more often interrupted (16% of mothers reported three or more interruptions per night, compared to 9% of fathers). These sleep interruptions are linked to less happiness and more stress and fatigue. Mothers’ leisure time is also twice as likely to be interrupted by childcare duties.

Like our earlier feature article, Better-educated ‘intensive motherhood’ mums are more miserable, this study questions the idea that parenting must be so labour-intensive and primarily done by mothers. Although it highlights that parents overall enjoy the time they spend with their children, mothers continue to carry a larger part of the care. The reserchers wonder how we might rethink motherhood to allow both mothers and fathers more flexibility in their time with children.

Header photo: David Amsler. Creative Commons.


Musick K, Meier A & Flood S (2016), How parents fare: Mothers’ and fathers’ subjective well-being in time with children, American Sociological Review 81