Labor Department’s annual time use survey highlights the challenges for working women

Working women put in longer hours on the job last year, spent more time caring for their children and did more work around the house than they did a year earlier.

They also spent less time relaxing or socializing—and less time sleeping.

Those results, from the annual American Time Use Survey released Wednesday by the Labor Department, hint at the challenges that working women face when juggling life’s various obligations.

Despite their increasing workplace commitments, they remain the primary caregivers and organizers of their households.

Employed women worked about seven hours and 20 minutes during the average workday last year, the most time spent on the job since the survey began in 2003.

Men spent slightly less than eight hours a day on the job. The gap between the average workday for women and men has fallen to its smallest on record.

Working women have steadily increased the amount of time they spend at work over the years. In 2013, they devoted slightly more than seven hours to their jobs.

Men have also left the workforce in larger numbers than women. Roughly 48% of men said they worked during the average day last year, down from around 51% in 2003. The share of women, by contrast, held relatively steady at around 37% between those years.

Working women also spent about a half-hour more a day than men did on household chores such as cleaning and cooking last year.

And working women who care for a child spent on average two hours a day on that commitment in 2018, an increase of roughly 15 minutes from 2017. Employed men with children spent less than an hour and a half on child care on an average day, down from 2017.

At the same time, the continuing decline in American fertility has reduced the share of workers who also take care of children to 22.2% in 2018, down from nearly 25% in 2003.

The growing work commitments of women come at the expense of time women spend on leisure and sports. Employed women spent about three and three-quarter hours a day relaxing or exercising, less than in previous years. Mothers, whether employed or not, spent less time engaged in leisure activities: about 3½ hours a day on average, down roughly 15 minutes from 2003.

Employed men, by contrast, spent roughly four hours and 40 minutes a day on leisure activities, slightly more than in 2016 and 2017. Dads with kids in the home, regardless of employment status, got about four hours a day.

Working women also saw their hours of sleep slip in 2018 to slightly more than 8½ hours a night. Working men got slightly more sleep than in previous years but are still sleeping less than women, on average.

Caitlyn Collins, a sociologist at Washington University in St. Louis and the author of a recent book on women managing careers and children, said women are dealing with increasingly demanding employers and an expectation that they will “put their time and devotion to their kids.”

“Of course these two things are impossible to accomplish at the same time: full allegiance to one’s job and full allegiance to one’s family and this is not asked of men,” she said.

“My understanding based on interviews that I’ve done with American women is they’re giving up sleep, they’re giving up leisure time, they’re giving up exercise and they’re giving up friendships,” Ms. Collins said.

By: David Harrison