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Study: Working Moms Multitask (and Stress) More than Working Dads

Alexandra Grablewski

Moms, we think you’ll relate to this one: a new study published in the American Sociological Review found that working moms are multitasking more than working dads—and they’re not happy about it.

Working mothers spend on average about 10 hours more per week multitasking (doing typical chores like making dinner or doing laundry, while also talking to their kids and helping with homework) than working fathers do, the study found. Shira Offer, the study’s lead author, said, “our findings provide support for the popular notion that women are the ultimate multitaskers and suggest that the emotional experience of multitasking is very different for mothers and fathers.”

Plus: Working Mother Report: Why Moms Work

The study relies on data from the 500 Family Study, an investigation of how middle-class families balance experiences of family and work. Using a subsample of 368 mothers and 241 fathers, Offer and Schneider found that 52.7 percent of all working mothers’ multitasking at home involves housework, in comparison to 42.2 percent of working fathers’ (whose multitasking tended to involve self-care or speaking with a third party, like answering a work call). In terms of household tasks involving childcare, 35.5 percent of working mothers and 27.9 percent of working fathers multitask. 

Plus: Sex and the Working Mom

The authors of the study believe that the multitasking experience for working mothers is more of a negative experience for them because mothers’ activities are more prone to outside scrutiny.  While Superdad can juggle his tasks without scrutiny, Supermom is held under a magnifying class.

Plus: Working vs. Staying Home

“At home and in public are the environments in which most household- and childcare-related tasks take place, and mothers’ activities in these settings are highly visible to other people,” said the study’s coauthor, Barbara Schneider. “Therefore, their ability to fulfill their role as good mothers can be easily judged and criticized when they multitask in these contexts, making it a more stressful and negative experience for them than for fathers.”

Plus: Kendra Wilkinson on Balancing Work & Family

So how can working moms lighten the load of their multitasking duties? The study suggests that the key to keeping mothers sane and emotionally balanced are the fathers. Fathers stepping up and helping mothers out not only eases the stress of multitasking but keeps fathers more involved in their families and home. 

What’s the deal with multitasking in your house? Do you and your partner both try to get a number of things done at once? Do you feel good about doing so—or overwhelmed?