Working mums: the ultimate multi-taskers

Working mums multitask more frequently than working dads and their multitasking experience is more negative, according to a new study in the American Sociological Review.

Working mums multitask more frequently than working dads and their multitasking experience is more negative, according to a new study in the American Sociological Review.

The study found that working mothers spend 48.3 hours a week multitasking which is about 10 more hours per week than dads. This suggests that they are doing more than one activity for more than two fiftsh of the time they are awake, according to the researchers.

Mothers reported feeling stressed about multi-tasking where dads regarded it as a positive thing.

“Gender differences in multitasking are not only a matter of quantity but, more importantly, quality,” said Shira Offer, the lead author of the study and an Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Bar-Ilan University in Israel.

“Our findings provide support for the popular notion that women are the ultimate multitaskers and suggest that the emotional experience of multitasking is very different for mothers and fathers.”

“There is a considerable disparity in the quality of the multitasking experience for working moms and dads,” Offer said. “For mothers, multitasking is, on the whole, a negative experience, whereas it is not for fathers.

Only mothers report negative emotions and feeling stressed and conflicted when they multitask at home and in public settings. By contrast, multitasking in these contexts is a positive experience for fathers.”

According to Offer and co-author Barbara Schneider of Michigan State University at least some of the difference in the way multitasking makes working mothers and fathers feel is related to the types of activities they perform.

“When they multitask at home, for example, mothers are more likely than fathers to engage in housework or childcare activities, which are usually labour intensive efforts,” Offer said.

“Fathers, by contrast, tend to engage in other types of activities when they multitask at home, such as talking to a third person or engaging in self-care. These are less burdensome experiences.”

The study found that among working mothers, 52.7% of all multitasking episodes at home involve housework, compared to 42.2% among working fathers. Additionally, 35.5% of all multitasking episodes at home involve childcare for mothers versus 27.9 for fathers.

The authors also believe that multitasking – particularly at home and in public – is a more negative experience for working mothers than for fathers because mothers’ activities are more susceptible to outside scrutiny.

“At home and in public are the environments in which most household – and childcare – related tasks take place, and mothers’ activities in these settings are highly visible to other people,” Schneider said.

“Therefore, their ability to fulfil their role as good mothers can be easily judged and criticised when they multitask in these contexts, making it a more stressful and negative experience for them than for fathers.”

Working fathers don’t typically face these types of pressures, the authors said. “Although they are also expected to be involved in their children’s lives and do household chores, fathers are still considered to be the family’s major provider,” Offer said.

“As a result, fathers face less normative pressures and are under less scrutiny when they perform and multitask at home and in public.”

“The key to mothers’ emotional well-being is to be found in the behaviour of fathers,” Offer said. “I think that in order to reduce mothers’ likelihood of multitasking and to make their experience of multitasking less negative, fathers’ share of housework and childcare has to further increase.”

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