Pity the single mothers. With no spouse in the house to help out with the chores and the childcare, they must be far more sleep deprived than married mothers. And getting a chance to just kick back and watch some TV? That’s probably another indulgence reserved mostly for married mothers, who can relax while their husbands are doing the dishes and putting the kids to bed.
Lots of people believe this. I am embarrassed to admit that I used to be one of them. But that was before I read a study that directly tested whether the “time poverty thesis” was true. In their investigation of a nationally representative sample of more than 23,000 mothers, Joanna Pepin, Liana Sayer, and Lynne Casper found that the single mothers did less housework and spent more time on leisure and sleeping than married mothers. What’s more, the single mothers managed all that while spending no less time caring for their children.
The study, “Marital status and mothers’ time use: Childcare, housework, leisure, and sleep,” was published last year (February 2018) in the journal Demography. But it didn’t explode into the national conversation until last month, just before Mother’s Day, when two of the authors wrote about it for the Washington Post. I think the findings resonated with the people who shared my surprise as well as with those (such as single mothers) who did not. At Slate, Lara Bazelon wrote an article titled, “Single moms spend less time on chores than married moms. I’m not surprised!”. I shared it on Twitter, and I think it got more likes and retweets than anything else I’ve ever posted there.