Reality Check – UCLA Family Study


“Mothers still do most of the housework, spending 27% of their time on it, on average, compared with 18% for fathers and 3% for children (giving an allowance made no difference).

Husbands and wives were together alone in the house only about 10% of their waking time, on average, and the entire family was gathered in one room about 14 percent of the time. Stress levels soared — yet families spent very little time in the most soothing, uncluttered area of the home, the yard.

“I call it the new math,” said Kathleen Christensen of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, which financed the project. “Two people. Three full-time jobs.” Parents learned on the fly, she said — and it showed.

Continual negotiations, for one. Parents generally were so flexible in dividing up chores and child-care responsibilities — “catch as catch can,” one dad described it — that many boundaries were left unclear, adding to the stress.

The couples who reported the least stress tended to have rigid divisions of labor, whether equal or not. “She does the inside work, and I do all the outside, and we don’t interfere” with each other, said one husband.

“The coordination it takes, it’s more complicated than a theater production,” said Elinor Ochs, the U.C.L.A. linguistic anthropologist who led the study. “And there are no rehearsals.”

In addition to housework, mothers spent 19 percent of their time talking with family members or on the phone, and 11 percent taking occasional breathers that the study classified as “leisure.” The rates for fathers were 20 percent chatting, and 23 percent leisure — again, taken in fragments.

Still, parents also had large amounts of solo time with their children, a total of 34 percent for mothers and 25 percent for fathers, on average.

Half the fathers in the study spent as much or more time as their spouse alone with at least one child when at home, and were more likely to be engaged in some activity, like playing in the backyard, the study found. Mothers were more likely to be watching TV with a child.

The more that women engaged with their husbands in the evening, talking about the day, the faster their cortisol dropped. But the men’s levels tapered more slowly when talking with a spouse. (A previous generation’s solution: “cocktail hour”).

Inside, the homes, researchers found rooms crammed with toys, DVDs, videos, books, exercise machines; refrigerators buried in magnets; and other odds and ends. The clutter on the fridge door tended to predict the amount of clutter elsewhere.

Outside the homes, the yards were open and green — but “no one was out there,”