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American women are working more but "overwork" is holding them back

Study: Women working more hours than ever

Women are working more hours than they have in the past 40 years — and while this means more opportunity for some, it can also become a burden when combined with being a parent.

Since 1977, women have picked up five more weeks of paid full-time work a year, a new report from the Institute for Women's Policy Research found. For moms, it's even more: 300 hours more per year, or more than seven weeks. Mothers, however, work fewer hours than women who don't have kids.

Sarah Holder, author of The Toll of Parenting on the American Woman's Workweek, told CBSN that even though women are working more hours, "they are not more likely to be working as a working mother."

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Anne-Marie Green and Sarah Holder discussing the toll of parenting on the American woman's workweek on CBSN. 

The study also finds that a quarter of working women work part time, particularly during their "prime working years" from 25 to 64. Forty-eight percent of women who work part-time jobs — often times lower-paid and with fewer benefits than full-time positions — cited child-care issues and personal obligations as reasons for choosing to do so.

"We need to tackle the incentives that encourage men to spend as much time as possible away from home and make it difficult for women to be in paid work," said Ariane Hegewisch, co-author of the study.

Since 1977, according to the study, men are only working one more full-time week than before. The average annual hours of fathers fell by eight hours.

"While the distribution of paid work hours has become more evenly split between men and women over the last four decades, who does unpaid care has not seen a similar shift," said Valerie Lacarte, co-author of the study. "This has created a double-bind on women's and men's limited time, reducing women's access to the highest paid jobs because of the imbalance in family care responsibilities, while making it more difficult for men to contribute equally to care and domestic work."

The practice of "overwork" — defined in the report as working too hard or too long— is another factor that reduces women's access to the highest paid jobs, the study finds, because of the imbalance in family care responsibilities. Likewise, overwork also makes it more difficult for men to contribute equally to care and domestic work.

Policies that would strengthen part-time work by providing equal treatment in pay, promotions, benefits and fairer scheduling practices would benefit women more than men, Holder said. She also suggested that giving more paid leave for child-rearing, increasing vacation days and deemphasizing overwork could bring about more equality between men and women.

Technological innovation in the coming decades will provide opportunities to promote a more equal distribution of work and family time, the study argues. Machine learning, robotics, and artificial intelligence are likely to automate many tasks and jobs.

"The productivity gained from those technological changes could also be used to rebalance those gender disparities and allow women to have more time to advance in their careers and allow fathers to spend more time, not at the office but at home caring for their children," Holder said.

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