It's Not Your Kids That Make You Time-Starved: It's Your Spouse

4 years ago

So much for you and your marriage partner working together to share the burdens of family life, regardless of who does what or how much. Turns out that it's actually married moms who are feeling the stress and pull of time starvation the most, not single moms, according to a new survey about the growing segment of "breadwinner moms" around the world, released yesterday by global communications firm Ketchum, in partnership with BlogHer.


Nearly half of all U.S. women are now the primary breadwinners in their families or on the same earning level as their partner, according to the survey. And the female-breadwinner trend isn't going anywhere; in fact, it's accelerating faster than last year's benchmark Pew study predicted.

But this increased "success" has not led to satisfaction: The vast majority of female breadwinners do not "feel in control of my destiny," nor has their career "given them a greater sense of purpose."

That's probably because working moms have more and more their plate, regardless of how enlightened a partner they married. Work. Family. Health. Family's health. Money. Major financial decisions. (The survey also shows that women are taking more and more responsibility for financial decisions in their families than ever before, as well.)

And it's also because neither corporations nor the government have really responded to the seismic shifts in the labor force that were set into motion when both parents in the average American family began working, a circumstance that is squeezing all Americans, but especially working moms.

And the pressure is mounting: 44 percent of U.S. breadwinners report being more stressed than they were five years ago, and 42 percent have even less free time.

"We are in the midst of one of the most significant socioeconomic shifts of this generation," says Kelley Skoloda, partner and director of Ketchum's Global Brand Marketing Practice. "And these changes are having ripple effects on their lives and behaviors."


Feeling pulled between work and family is the hallmark experience of breadwinner moms—particularly for moms in the United States and in China, the majority of whom both report envying parents who have more time to spend with their kids (U.S. 53 percent, and a whopping 74 percent in China).

But the survey makes it clear that it's not the kids of breadwinner moms who cause the most time starvation. And it's not the kids who suffer most when breadwinner moms can't make life work.

Yes, becoming a mother doubles the occurrence of time starvation—from 21 percent to 46 percent report experiencing time starvation. But married moms see another huge leap in time starvation—from 39 percent to 60 percent reporting it—when they take on a full-time job. Meanwhile, single moms report no difference in time starvation when they begin a full-time job.

Seems counterintuitive, perhaps, but the survey reveals that the marriage becomes just one more item on women's list where they aren't spending enough time and focus. A full 58 percent of breadwinner moms said they envy couples who spend more time together than they do with their spouses.

As a divorced mom of an 11-year-old boy, I have often said that the only sane way to raise children in America today is to be amicably divorced: I have time to myself on alternate weekends, and I know that I am solely responsible for all the tasks in my household. No more rearranging the dishwasher for me, quibbling over the bedroom temperature, or being put out when my better half forgets to bring home the milk.


Where do women find the extra time they need to squeeze into their lives to manage? By making an ill-advised life sacrifice regularly: They stop prioritizing their own health and well-being.

Ninety percent of all the women surveyed said that being in optimal health is a key part of how they define a successful life, but almost half admit they have given up sleep (40 percent) or exercise (35 percent) in order to jam everything else they possibly can into each busy day.

Clearly, this is a critical discovery. This is what suffers when work and life can't get along. It also has long-term ramifications for women's health and Americans' health overall. And the financial costs are potentially as high as the personal costs—much bigger costs, most likely, then the cost of work-life flexibility policies at the office that support moms, women, and all Americans with the juggling act of making life fit in around work.

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