Once during a disagreement with my husband, I complained that he wasn’t helping enough with our daughter, and I gave him a long list of the parenting chores I was shouldering on my own. “But you like doing all that stuff,” he blurted in his defense. I don’t recall how the conversation ended (probably badly), but I thought of it while reading a new study about the more mundane responsibilities of parenting. Researchers asked 181 heterosexual college professors who had children 2 or younger to rate, on a scale of 1 to 5, the pleasure they experienced from child care.
On 16 out of 25 child-care tasks — like changing diapers, taking a child to the doctor or getting up in the middle of a night to attend to a child — women reported statistically significant higher levels of enjoyment than men. The only parenting issue that gave women less pleasure than it gave men was having to manage who does what for the child. Over all, women’s scores were 10 percent higher than men’s.
Is it really true that women end up shouldering more of the parenting burden simply because they like it more — or at least dislike it less? Steven Rhoads, a University of Virginia political-science professor and the study’s lead author, surmised that some women may have inflated their enjoyment scores because of feelings of guilt or cultural pressure. But he also said some research suggests that a woman’s parenting skills are deeply rooted in biology. Women with high levels of testosterone, for instance, often show less interest in babies, while a father’s testosterone levels are known to drop when a new baby arrives, ostensibly a biological mechanism to encourage bonding with the infant.