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Hey Mom: You're On Your Own

Women today have a lot less help with childrearing and household chores than in generations past, a new study reveals.

Analyzing U.S. Census data from 1880 to 2000, the researchers examined who lived in the homes of mothers with children 5 years old or younger.

In the late 19th century, nearly 50 percent of mothers with young children lived with another female who might help carry the load. By the end of the 20th century, the figure was down to about 20 percent.

By looking at the data another way, the researchers found an even more dramatic shift—the actual availability of any females who might live in a house.

In 1880, 24 percent of mothers lived with a female age 10 or older who was not attending school or employed outside the home and was, at least in theory, available to help. By 2000, that number was 5 percent.

"This work adds to current discussion of work-family balance issues—and the 'burden' young mothers experience while trying to balance time demands—by looking beyond the young mothers' own time-demands and the contributions made by fathers," Short explained. "We focus on the presence and availability of other females in their households who might help out. Over the last century, the likelihood that they are there has declined."

The study is detailed in the journal Demography.

Robert Roy Britt
Rob was a writer and editor at Space.com starting in 1999. He served as managing editor of Live Science at its launch in 2004. He is now Chief Content Officer overseeing media properties for the sites’ parent company, Purch. Prior to joining the company, Rob was an editor at The Star-Ledger in New Jersey, and in 1998 he was founder and editor of the science news website ExploreZone. He has a journalism degree from Humboldt State University in California.