Mothers Work 300 More Hours Per Year than They Did 40 Years Ago

Press Release

New report finds increasing overwork and lack of paid time off have exacerbated gender inequality at work and at home

Contact: Jennifer Clark, clark@iwpr.org, 202-785-5100

Washington, DC—Mothers work 300 more hours per year than they did in 1977, while fathers’ hours at work are broadly unchanged, according to a new Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) report analyzing trends in paid hours worked among women and men. As work hours have increased, the report notes that policies have not kept pace with the shifting realities of working families.

The report, Gender Inequality, Work Hours, and the Future of Work, underscores how the dual trends of overwork and lack of paid time off has created barriers to women’s advancement at work and exacerbated gender inequality at home. The report argues that technological innovation can provide opportunities to better address time inequity between women and men.

Additional findings from the report include:

  • The average woman working full-time works five more weeks per year than she did 40 years ago. Overall, women’s average annual number of hours in paid work has increased substantially over the last 4 decades, while average hours worked by men during the same period declined marginally.
  • Mothers work 300 more hours per year than in the 1970s, while fathers work about the same. Since 1977, mothers increased the time spent in paid employment by more than 300 hours per year (an increase of 29 percent). Over the same period, the average annual hours of fathers fell by just 8 hours (or 1 percent). Still, fathers work more hours on average than other men, and mothers work fewer paid hours than other women, in each major racial and ethnic group.
  • Almost nine in ten of those who work part-time because of child care and other family-related reasons are women. Women part-time workers outnumber men at each stage of the life cycle; among part-time workers, women are almost as likely as men to prefer working full-time work, but are unable to. Women represent nearly all (92 percent) of workers who work part-time due to child care problems.

Co-author and IWPR Postdoctoral Fellow Valerie Lacarte, Ph.D., commented on the findings:

“While the distribution of paid work hours has become more evenly split between men and women over the last four decades, who does unpaid care has not seen a similar shift. This has created a double-bind on women’s and men’s limited time, reducing women’s access to the highest paid jobs because of the imbalance in family care responsibilities, while making it more difficult for men to contribute equally to care and domestic work.”

Co-author and IWPR Program Director on Employment & Earnings Ariane Hegewisch also commented:

“Differences in paid and unpaid time are at the heart of gender inequality. We need to tackle the incentives that encourage men to spend as much time as possible away from home and make it difficult for women to be in paid work. Technological innovation provides us with opportunities to rethink the way we use our time, be it to help the United States catch up to the modern world with paid leave policies or using scheduling software to increase choice over hours worked. During the last 40 years, the daily reality for American families has changed and it is time for policies to catch up.”

The report outlines policy recommendations to improve time equity between women and men:

  • Guarantee paid family leave, paid sick days, and paid vacation.
  • Improve access to quality part-time or reduced hours work.
  • Increase worker control over the scheduling of their time at work.
  • Discourage extensive overwork and overtime.
  • Provide paid time for employees to upgrade their skills as technology changes.
  • Encourage work sharing through the Unemployment Insurance system during times of economic transition and downturns and facilitate work sharing more broadly.
  • Promote a reduction in the standard 40-hour working week.

The Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization that conducts and communicates research to inspire public dialogue, shape policy, and improve the lives and opportunities of women of diverse backgrounds, circumstances, and experiences. IWPR also works in collaboration with the Program on Gender Analysis in Economics at American University.