Are Full-Time-Working Mothers So Different From Stay-at-Homes?

Stay-at-home mothers and working mothers are often discussed as if they were different species. And polls sometimes find the two cohorts regard each other in that light. When they’re at home, though, are their lives so different? Focusing on married mothers, a new report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics offers some clues as it crunches American Time Use Survey data for 2003-06.

Mothers who work full time and have at least one kid under age 6 spend barely half as much time on housework as their nonworking counterparts, .84 hours vs. 1.61 hours on an average day. There’s a similar disparity in the amount of time full-time-working mothers spend on cooking (.77 hours) compared to stay-at-homes (1.41 hours). But it’s hardly as if the stay-at-homes are cooking and dusting all day, either.

The bigger gap (and, no doubt, the more emotionally laden one) is in time spent per day caring for their kids — 1.97 hours by the working mothers, vs. 3.21 hours by those who aren’t employed. One detail: Nonemployed mothers spend nearly twice as much time “playing/doing hobbies with children” as full-time-working mothers –though at .82 and .42 hours a day, respectively, it’s not a huge chunk of time for either sort. As for the soccer-mom stereotype, workers spend a bit more time than nonworkers on “travel related to caring for and helping household children” (.28 hours vs. .25).

The chief item under the “leisure and sports” heading for stay-at-homes is “watching television,” at 2.10 hours on an average day. But it’s also the chief leisure pastime of mothers who work full time, consuming 1.38 hours. Both groups spend far less leisure time in “socializing and communicating,” at .66 hours for the full-time workers and .89 hours for the stay-at-homes.