Wonderful working mom!

Modern moms manage to do it all! A study finds that working mothers spend just as much time with their kids as moms did in 1965.

Working moms can feel less guilty about the time they spend outside of the home. According to a study by the University of Maryland, today's employed mothers spend just as much time with their children as mothers did in 1965.

The study, "Maternal Employment and Time With Children: Dramatic Change or Surprising Continuity?" by professor of sociology Suzanne M. Bianchi, reported that the "dramatic increase in mothers employed in the U.S. seems to have had relatively few, small, and inconsistent direct effects on children."

Dr. Bianchi's findings run counter to prevailing theory that has suggested that anything that interferes with the time parents spend with children is disruptive or sub-optimal. The report asserts that in the past society has:

  • overestimated the time that mothers spend with children;
  • overestimated how much mother's work cuts into time with children;
  • overestimated how much time children are available to spend time with; and
  • underestimated how much time fathers are spending with children.

Dr. Bianchi noted that "In most settings and times, the vast majority of mothers have not had the luxury of indulging in time with children. Our failure to adequately measure what women do with their time leads us to overestimate time with children when mothers are in the home and impedes our understanding of how much mothers do to protect their time with children once they leave home for paid work…

As standards of living and educational levels rise, we also often fail to consider how children's lives change in ways that alter what maternal investments are possible or even necessary…

And, finally, in our frequent lament over what men are not doing, we may be missing what they are doing. That is, we may also be underestimating how much women's changed market roles are pushing men to alter their domestic roles, especially their investment of time in childrearing."

Looking at the Figures

How much time do mothers spend with children? 

Mothers reported spending an average of 1.2 hours per day in care of family members in both the 1920s and the 1970s. The report suggests that the similarity in time for these two periods are due to the size of families (larger in the 20s with older siblings usually in charge of taking care of younger children) and the nature of "housework" (farm work and lack of time-saving conveniences and appliances).

How much does mothers' work cut into time with children?

Mothers spent an average of 5.6 waking hours per day with their children in 1965, and 5.8 hours in 1998. The report attributes this increase to two factors: mothers today are better educated and more highly educated women tend to spend more time interacting with their children, and today there are fewer children per family so mothers can spend more time with each child.

Today, mothers who are employed throughout their children's childhood are estimated to spend 82 percent the number of hours non-employed mothers spend with their children. Since no one has yet invented the expendable day, where are working mothers getting the time to spend with their children? They steal it from themselves, said Bianchi, sleeping five or six hours less each week than non-working moms. They also tend to do less housework.

How much time are children available to spend time with?

Eight percent of 3–5 year-old children of working mothers were enrolled in preschool in the 1960s, up to 50 percent currently of both working and non-working mothers. Children's lives have changed more generally across all types of families, with more children today engaged in activities that take them outside the home.

How much time are fathers spending with children?

In 1965, the time fathers reported spending directly in child care (either as a primary or secondary activity) was about one-quarter the estimate mothers gave of their time with children. By 1998, fathers' average time was over two-thirds that of mothers. In 1965, married fathers reported having children with them about 50 percent the amount of time mothers did. By 1998, their reports were 70 percent that of mothers.


Bianchi concluded that mothers continue to do what they must do to ensure their well-being and that of their family. "That is, they may have the luxury of worrying about providing fun, stimulation, and educational outings for their children, but only after they can assure that their children are clothed, well-nourished, and safe. Having more to attend to than is possible for one person, they ultimately step back and allow others to provide the more 'fun' or 'rewarding' contributions if that is what it will take to get the job done."