Reprinted from the Council on Contemporary Families Press Release

AUSTIN, TX – May 11, 2023 

Here’s a great tip for dads who want to give their partners a Mother’s Day gift that will last all year long.  Skip the flowers and commit to sharing more of the invisible mental and emotional work of anticipating the family’s needs over the next year and planning how to meet them. Such cognitive labor is a major but largely unrecognized source of stress and depression for mothers. But here’s the good news: Fathers who take more responsibility for such work report less stress and depression than those who don’t. Sharing the load can make for a Happy Father’s Day as well as a Happy Mother’s Day.  

A briefing paper released today from the Council on Contemporary Families, “Managing the household is a stressor for mothers but not fathers,” summarizes new research on how the sharing of cognitive or mental labor, such as anticipating and monitoring family needs, organizing and planning, and making decisions, related to mothers’ and fathers’ psychological well-being during Fall 2020.

In an article published this week online in Society and Mental Health, professors Richard Petts (Ball State University) and Daniel Carlson (University of Utah) used data from 1,765 partnered parents from the Study on Parents’ Divisions of Labor During COVID-19 to examine parents’ time in, and division of, cognitive labor in Fall 2020. They also examined how the division of cognitive labor related to mothers’ and fathers’ stress levels and depressive symptoms.

Petts and Carlson found that mothers spent over twice as much time on cognitive labor per week compared to fathers (5 hours vs. 2 hours per week). Notably, mothers reported that the division of cognitive labor was more unequal than the division of housework and childcare, suggesting that inequalities in the often “hidden” and never-ending mental work required to run a household may be at the core of persistent inequalities in domestic labor.

When examining associations between the share of cognitive labor and parents’ psychological well-being, mothers who were more responsible for cognitive labor reported feeling more stressed and depressed. However, fathers who took on greater responsibility for cognitive labor actually reported feeling less stressed and depressed.

As Petts and Carlson summarize the takeaway: “As long as gendered norms of care and the parenting double standard persist, gender inequality in domestic labor and well-being will continue. We need to change our cultural expectations about carework and provide more structural opportunities for fathers to be more engaged at home (e.g., remote work, paid leave) to reduce the burdens on mothers, reduce mothers’ stress, and promote greater gender equality at home.”


To contact lead author Richard Petts, email him at Follow him on Twitter @pettsric 

Follow Daniel Carlson on Twitter @DanielCarlson_1 


Brief report:
Press release:


The Council on Contemporary Families, based at the University of Texas-Austin, is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization of family researchers and practitioners that seeks to further a national understanding of how America’s families are changing and what is known about the strengths and weaknesses of different family forms and various family interventions.

The Council helps keep journalists informed of new and forthcoming research on gender and family-related issues via the CCF Network. To locate researchers or request copies of previous research briefs, please contact Stephanie Coontz, Director of Research and Public Education, at, cell 360-556-9223.

Follow us! @CCF_Families and