Saturday, August 13, 2011

Weekend Reading: The Contradictory Time Use Research Edition

This week's weekend reading is going to be a short one- Petunia got a runny nose this week (but no fever!) and now Hubby and I are both sick. Petunia seems to be on the mend already, so we're hoping this is a short cold. Still, the sofa is calling me...

But I came across two posts about time use this week, which I want to share. I don't really agree with either of them, and they seemed to contradict each other. So, of course, I have to write about them.

First, the study referenced in this post (the actual article is behind a paywall, and I'm not curious enough to pay) says that men and women are now spending almost the same amount of time on paid work and unpaid work (i.e., chores), but that men spend more of it on paid work and women spend more of it on chores.

I don't agree that this is anything to celebrate- it is impossible to tease apart cause and effect. Are women working less paid hours and perhaps hobbling their careers because they feel they need to put in more time at home? Or, are women just choosing to do more at home and therefore find that they can't put in as many paid hours?

I also wanted to know if the study had tried to match men and women based on type of job. The study I'd seen of academic scientists indicated that men and women put in approximately the same number of hours at work- but that the men still put in far less time at home. (See this old post of mine for my take on this and a link to the study- which was small.)

The study referenced in this rather depressing post finds the same thing- male and female scientists are working about the same number of hours. The study finds that they work long hours- close to 55 hours per week.

The problem I have is that this study is based on just asking people how many hours they work. That method has been shown to be less accurate than having people track their time- and that won't surprise anyone who's actually done a timetracking exercise (here are the results of my most recent one). I'd love to see a survey of academics and/or scientists that uses the more rigorous timetracking method. I think we'd find that they are working long hours- but not 55 hours/week. My guess is that it would come in closer 45-50 hours/week- still high, but I can tell you that 45 hours/week is very manageable, because that is roughly what I'm logging in my new job. (Remember, in these surveys, sitting in your office does NOT equal working- you track what you're actual doing, not where you are.)

My second problem with that post has nothing to do with the study, or really even the post. It was the comments. I actually felt that I had to add a comment to be a counter to all of the comments saying that it was impossible to work in science and be a mother. As I think I've shown, that's just not true. I've got absolutely no problem with a mother who decides that working is not for her. I agree that the way we've structured our workplaces and our paucity of family leave time adds unnecessary challenges to the lives of working parents. But it isn't as dire as some of those comments imply, and I was a bit shocked by the way the husbands of many of the commenters seemed to be let completely off the hook- if there was a conflict between work and home, it was the woman's problem to solve. Yikes. For instance, one comment bemoans the fact that if she worked her child would have to be in day care 9 hours a day. First of all, that is OK. But second of all, that is not the only way it could turn out. My husband and I slightly stagger our schedules, so our kids end up in day care for about 7 hours each day. I know that this isn't possible for everyone, but a lot of the people at our day care do something similar, so I know that we aren't utter freaks in this regard.

It also occurs to me that maybe one of the reasons I am not bothered by having my kids in day care all day is that "all day" isn't really all day- they don't go to bed until about 8:30 (Petunia) and 9:15 (Pumpkin), so we get quite a bit of time with them after work. And they wake up between 6:30 and 7, so we actually get a fair amount of time with them in the mornings, too. I guess that's a plus side to living in the low sleep needs universe....


  1. Anonymous8:38 AM

    ITA with everything you've said.

    And yes, when people talk about their kids going to bed at 6:30 or 7:30 I do wonder when they spend time with them! (Answer: they don't spend as much time in daycare.) So, a benefit of low sleep needs.

  2. We have early to bedtime kids (bless!) and I always left work early (4:30) to be with them, but I made up the time by working an hour or two after they go to bed. That's definitely the upside of being in a field (law) where tracking time is key and the only thing that people really care about.

  3. Thank god for daycare is damn right. We just said this in the car today. Taking care of our non-napping, constantly moving, super curious determined child for a full day is exhausting.

  4. I read this post at about 8.30 am this morning... I was awake, but the toddler draped across my body was not. I've figured out that she's not low sleep needs - just a night owl. Bedtime is 8pm-ish & she doesn't want to get up until 8am. Much like her father... who she wouldn't see during the day if she went to sleep at 6.30 or 7. He's rarely home before 6.45pm, but tends not to leave for work until 8.30am. We've talked about moving her to a daycare closer to our home so we could stagger our work hours and he could do drop-offs (I am perfectly happy to start work at 7am). However, I'm kind of reluctant because the center she goes to seems fine and she's used to it. I should really call round and check waiting lists again...

    The comments on that second post were all a bit sad. I can see why you felt the need to comment!!

    The first post was kind of interesting. I tend to agree that people were probably counting 'time at work' as 'time working' (which we all know are not identical). However, what I did like was that it led me to another link off the page

    That seemed like a really good idea. I love lists and organisation and it would probably help with planning fun stuff to do (otherwise, I spend my day trying to stop Moo playing destructo-baby) and focus my internet surfing a bit.

  5. the milliner8:54 AM

    I've often tried to remind myself too that since DS gets up early we do have more time together in the mornings.

    Honestly, I suspect that this is true for many occupations:

    "The study I'd seen of academic scientists indicated that men and women put in approximately the same number of hours at work- but that the men still put in far less time at home. "

  6. I somehow got around the pay wall and read the article about men/women working equal hours. One thing I remembered is that the person who benefitted most from the cultural shift (if you can really call it that) is the Stay-at-home mom because many husbands nowadays try to pitch in more when they get home from work. In the old days, they expected dinner ready and did not pitch in much with kids. Although some may disagree, this observation seems accurate. Most of my male working colleagues, family members and friends with SAHwives do seem more involved than the previous generation. I don't know if this is quite enough from the wife's perspective because I still hear complaints from the woman's side!

  7. It is, of course, impossible to tease out correlation, causation, socialization, etc. But here are a few points that I think are germane to the original study. There is not a set amount of housework, and even childcare, that has to be done. People have different standards. If I'm OK with ordering pizza every night and my partner thought that anything less than an hour spent cooking was unacceptable, would it be fair to say I'm shirking because I don't spend an hour cooking on my nights? If one party thinks children should be bathed nightly and the other party thinks 3x a week is more than enough, is the latter party shirking for not doing it every night? What has been interpreted as men doing less around the house may just be men having different standards -- I remember a stat somewhere that married men and bachelors don't devote that much different time to housework.

  8. I hear you on the low sleep needs universe thing. Both of our kids were wide awake at 9:30pm last night - but that's our "normal" unfortunately.

    Great point about people not being able to accurately determine how much time was spent doing X unless they actually tracked it.

  9. Anonymous10:42 AM

    For me, the key to being a scientist/mom is my husband. He's a stay at home dad and that makes working easy. The hardest part is emotional- missing out on stuff, living vicariously through camera phone pictures, and being jealous my husband gets to go to story time.

    However, most of my cohort from grad school that stayed in science are on their way to becoming moms or are already moms.

    It's certainly doable.


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