Cornell Study Finds Spouses Not Much Help to Working Mothers

New research by an economist at Cornell University finds that, as expected, working mothers devote less time to activities relating to their children’s diet and exercise than stay-at-home moms. In fact, working mothers spend 3.5 fewer hours per day than other mothers on activities such as grocery shopping, food preparation, and actively playing with their children.

And the study found that the partners of working mothers do very little to pick up the slack. The research found that working spouses devoted just 13 minutes per day to these activities and unemployed or non-working spouses spent just 41 minutes on chores relating to their children’s health and physical well-being.

The study, published in the journal Economics and Human Biology, found that the results were consistent across socio-economic classes and were not impacted by the mother’s race, level of education, or income.

Children in families where the mother works, are more likely to be fed with fast food or prepackaged ready-to-eat foods that on average are less nutritious and may have higher content in fat and sodium which can contribute to health problems including childhood obesity. Lead author of the study, John Cawley, professor of policy analysis and management at Cornell, says it is wrong to pin the blame on working mothers, because their spouses are generally unwilling to pitch in. “It’s important to remember that we can take steps to enhance childhood nutrition and physical activity without advocating that women exit the workforce,” Cawley says. He recommends that schools provide more nutritious food and increase the amount of physical education classes.


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