not shocked

Research Shows Schools Make Moms Default Parents — & Welp, That Tracks

New research proves most mom's gut feeling.

Originally Published: 
A new research paper shows evidence that a child’s school is more likely to call mom than dad when g...
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The hard truth is that most moms are the default parent in their family unit. Y’know, the parent that the kids come ask for snacks, homework help, and rides to a friend’s house. They’re also the ones planning, organizing, and making sure the entire household runs smoothly. Need something? Ask mom.

A new research paper shows that moms aren’t the default parent because their husband’s use weaponized incompetence to get by (though that does happen!). Turns out, schools can also be to blame as they’re more likely to call Mom than Dad when they need something.

Kristy Buzard, Laura Gee, and Olga Stoddard, the researchers behind the paper, reached out to over 30,000 school principals across the U.S. Fake emails sent from two-parent heterosexual families indicated that they were looking for a school for their child, and asked if the principal would call them to discuss. The emails provided numbers for both parents, and the researchers were able to see which parent, if any, got a call.

Researchers varied the wording of the messages sent. In one case, the email message said, “Can you call one of us to discuss?” without indicating which parent to call, leaving it up to the school to decide. In these cases, 59% of the time, mom got the phone call.

“This is significantly higher than would be the case if the principal was randomizing. This result alone affirms the view that moms are more likely to get a call, all else being equal,” Emily Oster wrote in a recent newsletter analyzing this study.

Another type of messaging sent out said that the dad had “a lot of availability” while mom was busy. In this case, 74% of the time, dad was the one to get the call from the school. However, in a sad and unbelievable result, 26% of the time, mom was still called.

They flipped the script once again in another set of messages, indicating that mom had a lot of availability and the male parent did not. In that message, 90% of the time, mom was called.

“If you indicate that mom is more available, they almost always call mom; that’s less true when you indicate dad is available,” Oster wrote.

This study doesn’t even get into the more realistic scenarios about who the school calls when a kid is sick or got into some trouble.

Oster continues, “The authors of this paper argue — and I agree — that the differences they see are probably the tip of the iceberg, and if they had a way to measure (say) who gets a call when a kid is sick, the differences would be even more extreme.”

“But they also connect their result to a larger point, which is that this is part of the overall gender imbalance in the invisible labor in the household and that, maybe, these issues and issues like them impact equality in the labor market too,” she adds.

Surely there will be some moms who will say they prefer the school to call them over their spouse, but what does that say about men in families and their ability to be an active parent, relaying important information back to their spouse?

Further research has shown that women, especially moms, are in a mental health crisis, needing help more than ever. And yet here we are.

A recent poll found that 42% of working mothers surveyed were diagnosed with anxiety and/or depression in 2022, compared to 28% of the general population and 25% of child-free coworkers. Basically, the latest research shows that American women, young and old but especially moms, are essentially screwed.

One study from 2022 found women in the U.S. spend about 4.5 hours per day caring for their families and homes, while men spend about 2.8 hours a day on the same or similar tasks. This also includes family mental health care. The mental burden becomes even greater for working moms.

And when they do get a “break” from their job while on maternity leave, federal paid leave policies for working moms in the U.S. are less than ideal.

In fact, when going up against the 40 other developed countries, the U.S. came in dead last in terms of paid leave available to mothers and fathers. The U.S. is the only OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) country that offered zero federally mandated weeks of maternity leave.

In fact, a recent survey conducted by Calm found women “take less care of their own mental health after becoming a caregiver, while men take better care of themselves.”

The poll also revealed that in addition to higher rates of anxiety and depression, working moms are also the group least likely report that their mental health has worsened or to seek help for their mental health, and 40% of working mothers don’t think their mental health will ever return to its pre-pandemic state.

To lighten this load just a little bit, can the school just call dad, please?

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