We celebrate Labor Day because hundreds of years ago workers demanded a day off from their jobs, but on this Labor Day, we should remember that there are many in our society who don't get paid for their work—and who don't get a day off from it.
You could call these people unpaid laborers, but most just call them mom.
Labor Day began in the 1800s because factory workers were tired of working 70 hours a week. Here we are 200 years later and surveys still show that mothers report working nearly 100 hours a week, and don't get days off.
Why the work of parenting is still unequal
Today's mothers are spending more time doing paid labor than previous generations did, but we're also spending more time on childcare. Today's fathers, too, are spending more time on childcare than previous generations, but there is a big difference in how moms and dads in heterosexual partnerships spend time with their kids. Mothers are more likely to be doing care work while spending time with the children—the bathing, the cleaning, the feeding—while research finds that fathers' time with kids is more often spent on play and leisure activities.
This tracks with the results of our second annual State of Motherhood survey, which found the majority of partnered moms report handling most household chores and responsibilities themselves and 62% report having less than an hour to themselves.
If you're a dad, it might seem like having a spouse who does most of the household labor is a good deal, and research does prove that fathers are happier parents than mothers, but the research also shows that dads want to be more than the fun, weekend guy because while care work is incredibly undervalued and unequal it can also incredibly fulfilling (if the carer is also allowed to rest).
Today's fathers want to be equal parents and partners but a culture that devalues unpaid work holds them back and this is what allows unpaid work to keep holding women back.
Unequal labor for unequal pay
The wage gap is directly tied to the unequal distribution of unpaid labor. Time spent on unpaid labor impacts a mother's ability to do paid work and advance in her career. Our second annual State of Motherhood survey shows that when a heterosexual couple has children, mom is likely to scale back her paid work, and it's easy to see why many couples would make that choice.
For women, becoming a mother means doing unpaid work that is undervalued, but it also often means becoming undervalued in one's paid work. The motherhood penalty is real. According to the National Women's Law Center (NWLC) analysis of U.S. Census data, mothers only make about 71 cents to a dad's dollar (that's even worse than the wage gap between women and men, by as much as 10 cents).
Mothers often feel like they are being forced out of the workplace against their will, while fathers report that they desperately want more time with their children but feel they can't take time off even when it is offered for fear of losing career momentum.
Mom doing all the work at home while dad is hardly home sounds like an outdated notion, and that's because it is. When researchers at Boston College surveyed professional fathers, they found less than 5% of the fathers saw themselves as just a financial provider. The survey found most fathers believed they should share their children's caregiving equally with their spouses (but only about 30% said they were actually doing that).
A survey of professional fathers by Boston College's Center for Work and Family reports that most fathers do not want to be traditional breadwinners, but value their role in caring for their children.
Equality at work will lead to equality in unpaid work
Labor experts believe flexible workplace policies for everyone are the key to keeping women in the workforce. Such politics allow mothers and fathers to more equally manage the demands of parenting and paid work.
Researchers at Perdue University found that today's workers are "desperately seeking sustainable careers" and employers can provide those sustainable opportunities by getting flexible, streamlining and reducing needless busywork.
The research proves that employees don't need to be at their desk for 40 or 60 hours a week to be great at their job.
"The reality is many reduced-load workers work more intently and often get as much done as a full-time worker. This is because they enjoy the opportunity to have an interesting job yet still be able to flexible in a way that enables time for other life interests -- from continuing education, to caregiving to community involvement," Ellen Ernst Kossek, Professor at Purdue's Krannert School of Management explains.
It is not a coincidence that Nordic countries where paternity leave and flexible work are the norm are also the countries with the lowest pay gap and most involved fathers.
The recent State of the World's Fathers' report found that if men did at least 50 minutes of unpaid care work per day, women's workloads would be reduced by half.
The authors of the report urge lawmakers, companies and individuals to support men to do more care work in the hopes that the unpaid workload of mothers could be reduced by half by 2030 and so that fathers can be the caregivers that they so desperately want to be.
Let's give dads that 50 minutes so that we can give mothers their freedom.
You might also like:
- You're not imagining it: Women work more than men, most of it unpaid
- This viral comic about working motherhood is so true
- No country is on target for gender equality—and that's hurting mothers, especially