Media Trashes Breadwinning Dads over Parenting Magazine’s ‘Mad at Dad’ Survey

By Robert Franklin and Glenn Sacks

“Alarming percentages of moms are angry at dads on a regular basis.” “Hell hath no fury like a mommy scorned.” “Moms are angry about dad’s role.”

These are some of the headlines which greeted Parenting Magazine’s new “Mad at Dad” survey which found that 31% of mothers get “little or no help” with childcare and 46% of mothers “get irate with their husbands once a week or more.” The New York Times called the survey “disturbing,” while a Washington Post columnist announced that mothers are “literally killing themselves.”

Is the survey a wake–up call? A shocking portrait of dysfunction in American family life? No—it’s junk science, and the New York Times, Washington Post and other mainstream media outlets should have known better than to parrot its outlandish claims.

To do the study, Parenting’s research arm, the MomConnection, sent out 5,000 survey questionnaires to subscribers. Parenting’s “nationally representative” findings are based on the 1,000 who responded.

In the social science field this is known as a “SLOP”—a Self–selected Listener Opinion Poll. Four out of five of those receiving surveys didn’t respond. The ones who did are more likely to have an ax to grind or be angry—exactly the response the magazine claims its survey revealed. This data cannot be credibly applied to the average mom or family.

SLOPs are a widely discredited methodology. For example, 35 years ago sexologist Shere Hite used the same SLOP methodology to produce the shocking statistic that 98% of married women were dissatisfied with their marriages and 75% had had extramarital affairs.

However, according to Stanford psychologist Philip Zimbardo, only 4% of the women who were given the survey responded. When the Washington Post and ABC News did a scientifically credible survey on the same topic, they found the exact opposite to be true—93% of women reported satisfaction in their marriages, and only 7% reported having had affairs.

Parenting’s claims that dads are derelict in their duties contradict credible surveys on American families. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 2004 Time Use Survey, men spend one and a half times as many hours working as women do, and full–time employed men still work significantly more hours than full–time employed women. Yet Child Trends‘ 220–page study Charting Parenthood: A Statistical Look at Fathers and Mothers in America found that in two–parent families, mothers spend only about 35 minutes per day more with children than do fathers [2 hours, 21 minutes vs. 1 hour, 46 minutes]. And the Families and Work Institute in New York City found that fathers provide three–fourths as much child care as mothers do.

Mothers who are dissatisfied might want to examine their own behavior as well as that of their husbands. Studies reported in the Journal of Family Psychology in June, 2008 and the Journal of Marriage and the Family in 1999 show that mothers are generally the gatekeepers of fathers’ involvement with their kids. If she criticizes or insists that any way that isn’t her way is wrong, dad will often withdraw. But if she stands aside and lets him parent, he usually does.

Another problem with Parenting’s survey is that they only queried mothers—a poor method to judge what fathers do or don’t do. For example, a 2002 Rand Graduate School study of father involvement found that “the failure to incorporate both parties’ (i.e. mothers’ and fathers’) perspectives may lead to inaccurate, inappropriate…conclusions.”

Credible social science researchers and journals routinely report the details of how their research was conducted. Yet Parenting doesn’t seem to want people to know how they got their results. Despite multiple requests, Parenting has refused to make public the questions its researchers asked or the answers responders gave.

Are fathers shirking their responsibilities to their families? A 2002 University of Michigan Institute for Social Research survey found that women do 11 more hours of work in the home per week than men, but men work at their jobs 14 hours per week more than women. According to the BLS, men’s total time at leisure, sleeping, doing personal care activities, or socializing is a statistically meaningless 1% higher than women’s. When work both outside the home and inside the home are properly considered, it is clear that men do at least as much as women.

Most moms have no reason to be mad at dads, and there’s no evidence that they are. Unfortunately, such a finding doesn’t play to the mainstream media’s anti–family “woman good/man bad” drumbeat. It also doesn’t make for catchy headlines.