Free Time and Emotional Well-Being: Do Dual-Earner Mothers and Fathers Differ?

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23 Scopus citations


Previous research suggests that there are important gender disparities in the experience of leisure, but the issue of how mothers and fathers experience free time emotionally remains overlooked. The present study addressed this lacuna using the Experience Sampling Method and survey data from the 500 Family Study. Results showed that mothers and fathers spent the same amount of time on leisure activities. However, mothers had slightly less pure free time than fathers and were more likely to combine leisure with unpaid work or spend time in leisure with children. Multilevel analyses showed that pure free time was associated with increased positive affect and engagement and decreased negative affect and stress, as was the combination of free time with unpaid work and personal care. These trends did not differ by gender. Adult leisure and free time with children were also beneficial to parents’ well-being. However, the relationship between free time with children and positive affect was stronger among fathers, whereas the association between adult leisure and engagement was stronger among mothers. These results suggest that mothers may feel more anxious about being criticized by others when engaging in leisure with their children, whereas spending time with adults alone may free them from the pressures of “good mothering.”

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)213-239
Number of pages27
JournalGender and Society
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1 Apr 2016

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015, © 2015 by The Author(s).


  • dual-earner families
  • experience sampling method
  • free time
  • leisure
  • well-being


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