Sunday, November 29, 2015

Elizabeth Street


Are Parents Today Really Less Busy Than Their 1960s Counterparts?

Dec 09, 2013

Are Parents Today Really Less Busy Than Their 1960s Counterparts?

A new article in The Atlantic came through my Twitter feed recently and the headline was enough to make my blood boil. The piece, titled Modern Moms Aren't As Busy As 1960s Moms Were, is based on a recent study released by the journal, Mayo Clinic Proceedings, which found that "mothers with older children (ages 5-18) were physically active for about 11 hours per week less in 2010 than in 1965."

My head was spinning, wondering how this could possibly be the case, when so many modern women are struggling to "have it all," "lean in," or whatever tidy acronym you'd like to use to describe juggling a million proverbial balls. Between busy careers and full family lives, it always feels like something is slipping through the cracks. 

But as I read further, I understood how this conclusion had been reached. Basically, there are two factors that cannot be ignored when comparing modern parents with those of earlier decades:

1. The definition of physical activity: The study includes all manner of housework (cooking and cleaning), as well as playing with children, in their definition of physical activity. It's true that many modern parents have farmed out tasks involving housework, so if cooking and cleaning is counted as "physical activity," well, it's probably true that we are less active than our apron-wearing, '60s-era counterparts. But I wonder how many of those women busted their asses to get to the gym before heading home to make dinner for their families and then hop back on their laptops to finish up the day's work? 

2. Modern parents have modern conveniences: Dishwashers, washing machines and dryers are all conveniences that didn't appear before the late '70s, so if scrubbing clothes burned significant calories, then you've got us there, too. 

No one can deny that the ubiquity of screens has turned us into a sedentary society. The numbers don't lie: Our physical activity has gone down and obesity rates have gone up. And if we don't want our kids growing up sitting in front of a screen, then we need to take a moment to reflect and practice what we preach--switch off our iPhones and get on the floor with our children. But any notion that modern parents are anything less than busy is just malarkey. 

By Christina Anderson

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