2006 October 29 Sunday
Parents Spending More Time With Children

A new study argues that time spent by mothers and fathers with their children has increased in the last few decades.

“We might have expected mothers to curtail the time spent caring for their children, but they do not seem to have done so,” said one of the researchers, Suzanne M. Bianchi, chairwoman of the department of sociology at the University of Maryland. “They certainly did curtail the time they spent on housework.”

The researchers found that “women still do twice as much housework and child care as men” in two-parent families. But they said that total hours of work by mothers and fathers were roughly equal, when they counted paid and unpaid work.

Using this measure, the researchers found “remarkable gender equality in total workloads,” averaging nearly 65 hours a week.

The findings are set forth in a new book, “Changing Rhythms of American Family Life,” published by the Russell Sage Foundation and the American Sociological Association. The research builds on work that Ms. Bianchi did in 16 years as a demographer at the Census Bureau.

At first, the authors say, “it seems reasonable to expect that parental investment in child-rearing would have declined” since 1965, when 60 percent of all children lived in families with a breadwinner father and a stay-at-home mother. Only about 30 percent of children now live in such families. With more mothers in paid jobs, many policy makers have assumed that parents must have less time to interact with their children.

But, the researchers say, the conventional wisdom is not borne out by the data they collected from families asked to account for their time. The researchers found, to their surprise, that married and single parents spent more time teaching, playing with and caring for their children than parents did 40 years ago.

I took a graphic from the article and translated it into the tables shown below for how mothers and fathers spend their hours. I suspect 65 hours per week total time spent that the study finds for mothers and fathers includes time not captured in the table below. I suspect commuting time and shopping time might account for the rest of the 65 hours per week not captured in the tables.

Mothers hours spent per week:

YearChild careHouseworkPaid workTotal

What caused the increase in time spent in child care? Are parents more afraid to let their kids play unsupervised? Or did automation of household cleaning simply allow mothers to spend more time with their kids and so they are exercising a previously frustrated desire? Or do mothers feel a need to spend more time helping with homework? Mothers I know spend a lot of time driving their kids around to events that mothers around my neighborhood didn't spend when I was a kid.

Now compare it to the hours spent by fathers. Note that the trend toward a shorter work week has stopped and even reversed.

Fathers hours spent per week:

YearChild careHouseworkPaid workTotal

From 1995 to 2000 the fathers took on more child care and more job work responsibilities. How has time worked changed since 2000? I bet the last 6 years have gotten even worse on the job front.

Note that the kids are seeing more time with both mom and dad, going from 13 hours total to 20 hours total. This time does not include time spent together while the parents are doing other things such as cleaning and shopping. Have the kids just shifted from time spent while mom vacuums to time where mom talks to them about their homework?

Another thing I'd like to know: Have households become more difficult to clean due to carpeting as compared to wooden floors? My guess is that back 100 years ago the standards for cleanliness for kids' clothing were not as high and the kids wore clothing longer between washings. Can any old readers comment on how often their clothes were washed in the 1930s or 1920s?

I'd also like to know how much time spent commuting has increased. The figures above do not appear to capture commuting time. I also suspect the figures do not capture shopping time.

I'd also like to know what made possible the decrease in hours doing housework. Are homes dirtier? Or did automation save that much time? Consumption of take-out food and restaurant meals has certainly increased. How much has the use of maid services contributed to a decrease in hours spent cleaning? No-iron clothing has reduced the need for time laboring over the ironing board (and I buy only non-iron shirts and pants)..

Marie Cocco argues that the much maligned working mothers sacrifice everything in their lives but time with their kids.

Now the research makes the stereotypes that pit selfish careerists against virtuous stay-at-home moms seem meaner than ever. Especially since the researchers found that women who work haven't only given up housework, they've given up big parts of themselves. Employed mothers sleep fewer hours per week and have much less discretionary time than mothers who don't work. They spend less time with their spouses and friends, the time diaries showed.

What drove these changes in the allocation of time by mothers and fathers? Any insights?

Oh, and how much time does the Roomba save?

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2006 October 29 06:40 AM  Economics Family

PJGoober said at October 29, 2006 9:17 AM:

If I understand correctly, the data shows the average time spent per parent. What would the data look like if it was weighted by the number of children each parent had? I assume it would look far worse. This would be more relevent to the average condition of the next generation of children. There must be a large percentage of total couples that have only 1 child and can more easily lavish a lot of attention of 1 child, but there is a far fewer percentage of total children that have no siblings.

Dave said at October 29, 2006 10:14 AM:

100 years ago parents used to have a lot more children maybe 6,7,8+ although I don't know the US stats, but now they only have 2.05 or so.
Parents get to spend more time on each child.
Would that be a good or bad thing? years ago when there were larger families the kids used to get upto a lot of things outside the view of parents but I'd have thought that is less so now. I would not be too happy if parents were watching my every move when I was young.

I'd say a good thing when the kids are young, maybe not so good as they're approaching adulthood.

Recently I was chatting with my granddad about when he was young, left school at 14 (as most did) was working straight away on the farm and claims he was good in the market because he was quicker at maths than most. By the way teenagers are infantised these days its almost hard to imagine how different it would have been.

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