Three women sitting at an office table with their laptops and talking. Photo by  Nour Chamoun  on  Scopio

I saw this article online about the workload of the average mother, which ends up equaling 2.5 full-time jobs. Their math is that, according to a study of 2000 American women who are moms of kids between 5 and 12 years old, the average mom worked 98 hours per week. This number takes into account both career and home tasks. Unfortunately, I feel like the question of child work is only part of the problem of women being overworked. I think it’d be interesting to tally up all the other ways that being female creates extra work.

The study estimates that most women started their day at 6:23 AM on average and didn’t gt done with parenting and/or career tasks until 8:31 PM. Being childless and in my early 30s, I can honestly say that was healthier than my schedule was when in graduate school, but I realize it’s an average. But let’s actually look at the things women are doing in their career time and home time that makes motherhood (or just femaledom) so time-consuming in the first place.

Let’s start with the home life. Despite all of the advances women have made with careers and equal pay, the housework gap has moved to a standstill since the 80s. That means if you’re a millennial, your mom likely did the same number of hours of housework per week that you do, about 45 minutes per day. Homosexual couples are not exempt from this dynamic either, as those surveyed stated that the job of housework and child-rearing belonged to the more feminine of the two in same-sex relationships. Despite the increase in men taking part of child-rearing activities (honestly not a hard statistic to improve, as men surveyed in 1965 spent only 2.5% of their time on child-rearing) their participation is only up to 7%, according to the Pew Research Center.

For the sake of our running tally, let’s assume that our fictitious woman is getting up at 6:32 AM and doing her 45 minutes of housework then. Now it’s 7:17 AM. Glamour magazine did a study showing how long our Average Lady takes to get ready, which ends up being 24 days, 7 hours, and 40 minutes per year, compared to a man’s 9 days, 5 hours, and 27 minutes per year. This gives us about 583.6 hours per year for the Average Lady. Dividing that by 365 days per year gives us .62 hours per day that a woman spends maintaining her beauty routine in some fashion. Likely that time is including the hours it spends getting hair, nails, waxing, tanning, shopping, and other tasks done, but for the sake of our running tally we’ll put that all into our average day. That means after Average Lady does her 45 minutes of housework, she’s spending 37.2 minutes showering, doing her hair and makeup, and getting dressed. That takes us to 7:54 AM, and Average Lady has not done any child-rearing and hasn’t had breakfast yet. Let’s assume her job starts at 9:00 AM so she has time to do this.

Now we get to the kids’ breakfast and getting ready. This study estimates that the average number of tasks each parent gets done in the morning related to getting kids ready is 43, and that at the end of the week parents spend an average of 10 hours on these tasks alone. If we divide that by 7 days in a week, Average Lady is spending 85 minutes per day getting kids to put their shoes on, take their lunches, and stop hitting their sister at the breakfast table. Let’s assume Average Lady has a husband and he is also doing this work, just to make the men feel better. So she’s just getting done with the kids at 8:19, and since the average commute time for American adults is 26.1 minutes, she’s at work at 8:45 and gets 15 minutes for breakfast. Glad we got her there on time.

Now let’s look at what happens when she’s at work. The average American woman works 36.4 hours, finally one where she gets a break! Let’s not talk about the fact that she’s probably underpaid… (82 cents on the dollar). Anyway she’s working today about 7 1/2 hours, meaning she’ll be there until 5 PM assuming she gets a 30-minute unpaid lunch break, cause let’s face it, she’s no executive. (Whether or not she takes that break is another story, given that women spend an average of 17 years of their lives on diets…) When she gets to work, she’s assigned 55% of work in the office and doing 10% more work than her male counterparts. These tasks may include things like making the coffee, cleaning up common areas, organizing events for social hours, coworker’s birthdays, and scheduling appointments for others, not to mention doing the work that other people are too lazy to do themselves. These tasks are unlikely to push her the corporate ladder either since men are more likely to get a pay raise than women.

I had a hard time finding a time figure for how long our Average Lady spends on “office housework”, but we can assume that it’s 10% more than her male counterparts, so out of a 36.4 hour work week that’s .73 hours per day, or about 44 minutes. That means Average Lady gets to work and doesn’t even get to doing her work until about 9:45, during which time her male coworkers are able to get a head start on whatever moderately interesting assignments they’ve been given.

Let’s look at Average Lady’s internal life during her workday. The average woman spends 1 hour and 43 minutes per day worrying about her appearance. Let’s assume that Average Lady is efficient and she gets all her Appearance Worrying done during the workday while she’s being paid (gotta multitask), and she gets her appearance worries all done in the morning, so now she’s made it to lunchtime at 11:30. Now we grapple with the fact that American parents spend an average of THIRTY-SEVEN HOURS PER WEEK worrying about their kids. At an average of 5.3 hours per day, Average Lady commenced her Family Worry Time at 11:30 and ended at 4:50. That gives her 10 whole minutes she can answer those emails or whatever her job actually is. Now she’s on the road at 5:00 PM to go home with her 26-minute commute, getting her home at 5:26.

The average American spends about 17 minutes per day exercising, and in the absence of a gender-specific statistic we’ll assume that Average Lady gets her sweat on for this amount of time. We’ll also assume she’s doing a workout video at home and not going to the gym and not showering (she’s busy, guys). Now it’s 5:43 and she can relax. But wait! Kids have to go to their after-school activities and guess who gets to drive them. The average parent (51%) spends over 5 hours per week driving kids around. Let’s assume that Average Lady’s husband takes half of that time (unlikely, given statistics, but let’s throw him a bone and assume he’s helping) so she spends 2.5 hours per week driving for kid stuff. Now instead of getting home at 5:43 she’s home at 6:19. Dinnertime!

Americans spend about 33 minutes per day in food prep and this is another activity it’s more likely Average Lady will be taking than her helpful husband. The family sits down to dinner together at 6:52, which is definitely a more European mealtime (late!) than my Minnesotan family would (early!). Let’s say it takes 30 minutes for everyone to be done eating and the kids and dad help with cleanup, so we’re at about 7:30 PM. The average American parent spends 6.2 hours per week helping kids with homework so Average Lady and her husband (let’s assume he helps with this, he’s a smart guy) are spending about an hour and a half altogether with homework. If they make an efficient team, they can split this time up and be done helping with homework by 8:15. Time to start winding down and getting ready for bed.

Parents spend an average of 6 days a year getting kids to bed, or 140 hours per year, which is 38 minutes per day. Ugh. Let’s again assume that husband is helping and cuts that time in half for Average Lady so she can get a damn break. Now it’s 8:34 and she can get some of that elusive personal time that she read about in O magazine. But no! We’re out of milk! Since women do the majority of family grocery shopping, now Average Lady has to go to the grocery store and pick it up. The average American goes to the grocery store 1.6 times per week and spends an average of 43 minutes in the store. That means Average Lady is spending only about 10 minutes if we average it through the week. Since it’s already 8:44 and I was tired just writing this, Target is gonna have to be her me-time tonight.

Of course these figures are all averages and do not apply to every woman or female-identified person, but this is meant to give perspective to the “crazy” that a lot of people see with motherhood and work. I didn’t even bother to touch the fact that women carry more advanced degrees than men despite their lower relative pay, or that women of color experience even more disparities in the workplace, so Average Lady may well be working on her master’s in all of this or getting even less recognition. Not to mention the toll that emotional labor takes on us. The point is, we need to start looking at the conditions that women actually live in and acknowledge the reality of inequality before we can start to change it.

5/10/20 edit – Are you a woman struggling with finances due to COVID-19? Here’s an article from that was shared with Amity Counseling & Consultation with some info and resources.

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