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The Father Factor

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Men at Work: Time and Turf Wait for No One

Husbands across the country can celebrate – Time magazine has printed (on its cover no less!) that married men and women do the same amount of work each day! (Chore Wars, 8/8/11)

This assertion is based on new U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data that shows that when you combine paid (your job) and unpaid (child care and housework) work, married moms work only about 20 minutes more per day than married dads do, the smallest difference ever reported (in childless couples, men actually work - paid and unpaid - 8 minutes more per day than women!).

While it has become popular for women to air their grievances about their lazy husbands and for the culture to permit them to do so, I think this data is not surprising to most people (is it?).

As the article points out, when mom comes home and starts her “second shift” of caring for the children, it is because dad is still at work… working.

In other words, just because dad’s “first shift” is longer than mom’s does not mean she is working more. She is working “differently” and, as most people also understand, she is often doing so by choice. As the writer of the story -- a working mom -- points out, she is exhausted by all the work she has to do because she decides to go home earlier than her husband does, and thus is the one who faces the children and messy house first.

But despite this, married dads are putting in 53 minutes per day of child care – three times more than they did in 1965 – while moms put in 70 minutes per day (about the same as they did in 1965).

But enough with the data. What is really going on here? Why do moms still feel overwhelmed?

A few of us at NFI have long asserted that the reason moms feel overwhelmed is that they have a powerful desire to be the lead organizer/scheduler/chauffeur/referee/cook/etc in the home, regardless of how much they work, and they often do so at the expense of dad’s involvement. Sharon Meers, in her book Getting to 50/50, writes extensively about this.

So, while dads have had to make room in the workplace for moms, moms have not been expected to (nor have they often been willing to) make room for dad in the home to the same extent. Clearly, out of necessity, working moms have had to allow dads to get more involved, but the fact that women still feel overwhelmed is a testament to the idea that they sometimes can’t let go of their traditional “dominion” over all things domestic.

So, really, the debate is no longer about time, but about “turf” -- and moms want to retain their “home turf” advantage.

This leaves dads in a “transitional” space in which they are expected to do a little more at home (but not too much!), and still be full partners at work. Thus, we have dads feeling even more work-family conflict than moms do! (see the Time article)

So, while it is helpful to have data that shows that dads are not slackers, we still have a problem to solve: how can we help moms feel more comfortable ceding some of their home turf to dads?

Father Absence and Puberty?

Time magazine just published an article about young girls entering puberty earlier and earlier. The article is based on a study that was just published in the journal, Pediatrics.

The age of menarche (first period) in white girls has dropped steadily since 1997. During that same period, the age for black girls stayed at the same very low age -- researchers think they may have "bottomed out" already.

While there is still a lot of mystery as to why this is happening, doctors are starting to posit some answers. Increases in childhood obesity and exposure to certain chemicals are two possibilities.

But research also suggests that another factor is at play here -- the father factor (See the name of our blog! Clever, eh?).

I remember once reading about the connection between father absence and the early onset of puberty, so I did a little research and came across a 2003 study called, “Father absence, parental care, and female reproductive development" in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior. Basically, it found that the more time a young girl spends in a father-absent home, the more like it is that she will experience "early reproductive development."

Researchers are also not entirely sure why this happens either, but they posit that if a young girl spends significant time with non-related males, that could trigger menarche. A colleague of mine here at NFI who grew up without her father and had very early menarche thinks that it was a "survival instinct" based on needing to mature much earlier to deal with the added physical and emotional challenges that single-parent households can bring.

It is interesting that where rates of father absence are highest (in the African American community), the age of first period is already at a low point, and where rates of father absence have been increasing, the age has been getting lower.

I am not suggesting that father absence is the only reason for this phenomenon, but it seems to be one of them. And since doctors are concerned about early menarche (longer duration of puberty may affect cancer rates and fertility), they should be concerned about what is happening with fathers.

The Father Factor Blog: News, tips, and tools for dads and those helping dads.

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