Free Time and Emotional Wellbeing: Do Dual-Earner Mothers and Fathers Differ?

By Shira Offer

Previous research suggests that although women and men spend overall the same amount of time on leisure activities, important gender disparities exist in the quality of free time. Time diary studies have shown that women are more likely than men to combine free time activities with other activities, most notably housework and childcare, and are less likely to spend free time alone or in the sole company of adults. Hence, it is argued, because women’s free time is less “pure” and more often “contaminated” by other activities, free time is less relaxing and enjoyable for women than for men. Nevertheless, the question of how women and men emotionally experience free time has remained overlooked in quantitative research. I address this gap in my research (here) by testing how parents feel during their free time, using survey and time diary data from the 500 Family Study , which includes information on the daily activities and emotional states of parents in dual-earner middle-class families in eight urban and suburban communities across the United States.

The descriptive results showed that both mothers and fathers spent about 20 percent of their waking time in leisure. Consistent with previous studies, the mothers in this study had slightly less pure free time than fathers and were more likely to combine leisure with unpaid work. These findings may reflect mothers’ higher commitment to family roles and they provide some support to the view that women tend to sacrifice their own free time in response to family demands. For example, rather than relaxing for a while after a day at work women would help children with homework or fix dinner upon their return home. Continue reading “Free Time and Emotional Wellbeing: Do Dual-Earner Mothers and Fathers Differ?”