Women really are better multi-taskers than men – according to a study showing that they spend nearly half their time doing at least two things at once.
“For mothers, multi-tasking is – on the whole – a negative experience, whereas it is not for fathers.
“Only mothers report negative emotions and feeling stressed and conflicted when they multi-task at home and in public settings. By contrast, multi-tasking in these contexts is a positive experience for fathers.”
The researchers said the study shows that at least some of the difference in the way multi-tasking makes working mothers and fathers feel is related to the types of activities they perform.
Prof Offer added: “When they multi-task at home, for example, mothers are more likely than fathers to engage in housework or child care activities, which are usually labour intensive efforts.
“Fathers, by contrast, tend to engage in other types of activities when they multi-task at home, such as talking to a third person or engaging in self-care. These are less burdensome experiences.”
The study found that among working mothers, 52.7 per cent of all multi-tasking episodes at home involved housework, compared with 42.2 per cent among working fathers.
Also, 35.5 per cent of all multi-tasking episodes at home involve child care for mothers compared with 27.9 for fathers.
The researchers also believe that multi-tasking – particularly at home and in public – is a more negative experience for working mothers than for fathers because mothers’ activities are more susceptible to outside scrutiny.
Barbara Schneider, co-author of the study and a sociology professor at Michigan State University, said: “At home and in public are the environments in which most household and child care related tasks take place, and mothers’ activities in these settings are highly visible to other people.
“Therefore, their ability to fulfil their role as good mothers can be easily judged and criticised when they multi-task in these contexts, making it a more stressful and negative experience for them than for fathers.”
Working fathers do not typically face these types of pressures, according to Prof Offer. “Although they are also expected to be involved in their children’s lives and do household chores, fathers are still considered to be the family’s major provider,’’ she said.
The study was published in the American Sociological Review.