Key findings of a recent study, spearheaded by Dr. Richard J. Petts, professor of Sociology at Ball State University, indicate that mothers spend more than twice as much time performing domestic cognitive labor—planning, organizing, and monitoring family needs—than fathers do.

Such work is associated with greater stress and more depressive symptoms for mothers, but not for fathers; doing more cognitive labor actually improves fathers' well-being, the study shows.

The results and findings of this survey-based study are in the research paper, “Managing a Household During a Pandemic: Cognitive Labor and Parents’ Psychological Well-Being,” published online May 11, 2023, by the journal Society and Mental Health. Dr. Petts, the lead writer of the paper, believes this study can shed light on how cognitive labor in the home affects parents’ well-being.

“Our focus on cognitive labor in this study illustrates an additional way in which mothers are burdened by domestic labor obligations,” Dr. Petts said. “And it provides insights on how this may exacerbate gender inequalities in well-being, particularly during the pandemic when stress was already elevated.”

Dr. Petts conducted this study and co-authored the paper with fellow sociologist Dr. Daniel L. Carlson of the University of Utah. Additionally, Dr. Petts is partnering with the Council on Contemporary Families to write a briefing paper on the main findings.

An active scholar on gender inequities, household labor division, parental leave policies, and related topics, Dr. Petts has been quoted or had his work cited by numerous publications and broadcasts, including The New York Times, and USA Today. He has co-authored several articles, including one titled, “To Keep Women in the Workforce, Men Need to Do More at Home,” which was published in the Harvard Business Review.

Dr. Petts and Dr. Carlson have previously worked together on other studies and research papers, including “Changes in US Parents’ Domestic Labor During the Early Days of the COVID-19 Pandemic,” published online in 2021. Collaborating with them on this research and the published paper was Dr. Joanna Pepin of the University of Buffalo – State University of New York (SUNY).