Three months after the birth of a child, women are still spending most of their time doing housework while men are sitting around doing nothing. These are the key findings of a new study from the journal Sex Roles you’ll inevitably end up seeing cited in various news outlets for the next five years. The catch? The study involved only 52 couples—all of them upper-class, white, and from Columbus, Ohio—and the data was entirely self-reported. The findings, then, suggest only one thing: 52 rich dads in Columbus need to get off their couches.
“It’s frustrating,” said coauthor on the study Claire Kamp Dush of Ohio State University, in a statement. “Household tasks and childcare are still not being shared equally, even among couples who we expected would have more egalitarian views of how to share parenting duties.” Or, you know, among the 52 couples from a single demographic that Kamp Dush surveyed.
Kamp Dush and colleagues chose to study highly-educated, white, dual-earner couples because they were curious how parenthood shifted household responsibilities within this demographic. They found that, contrary to existing market theories, this demographic seldom seems to “specialize” after the birth of a child (an economic term for the traditional model of one parent staying at home with the child while the other works full-time). Sure, the sample size was small, but it provided an interesting look into how the upper class Ohioan parents in 2017.
Along the way, the researchers asked each couple to keep a diary of how they spent their time. And here’s where the findings get sticky. The diaries suggest that, on non-workdays, fathers spent between 47 percent and 35 percent of their time engaging in leisure activities while mothers (who, recall, were also working in these dual-earner families) relaxed a mere 16 to 19 percent of the time on days off. On the surface, those are damning numbers. “I was expecting to see a lot more minutes where the couple was doing some kind of housework or child care together,” Kamp Dush said. “I suspect the situation may be even less equitable for women who don’t have all the advantages of the couples in our sample.”
But it’s wholly unclear why that would be the case. From self-reported data on a sample of 52 likeminded people living in Columbus, Ohio, we can draw precisely zero conclusions about how the average American family splits household tasks and childcare responsibilities. The findings might remind you of a study published back in August that suggested that dads feed their kids unhealthy foods—based on self-reported data on 14 dads in the Bay Area.
The upshot is that we need more rigorous dad science—and fewer small studies that draw broad conclusions about fatherhood from flawed data. “It is a small sample,” Kamp Dush acknowledges. “It is not the definitive answer, and is mostly relevant to similar couples.” Indeed.