2010 March 22 Monday
Parents Spend More Time Driving Kids To Compete

Upper middle class Mom's cruising Johnnie and Jill to more organized activities to ensure they get into better schools. My sense of this is that these moms are not spending their time or money wisely.

College-educated mothers in the United States are caught up in a "rug rat race." They are going to extremes to secure elite college admission for their kids, say University of California, San Diego economists Garey and Valerie Ramey. Since the mid-1990s, these women have dramatically increased the time they spend coordinating and driving their children to organized activities, trading in nine hours of their own leisure time every week to do so. All in the name of landing their progeny a seat at a top university.

The Rameys dub the phenomenon "the rug rat race" and describe it in a National Bureau of Economic Research working paper of the same name.

The study has an autobiographical inspiration. When the Rameys moved to San Diego's University City neighborhood, they found children's schedules were packed with sports, arts and other classes. Over time, the Rameys, especially Valerie, found themselves caught up in the competition.

"I was shocked to find moms with graduate degrees who had quit their jobs because they needed more time to drive their children to activities," Valerie Ramey said.

At first, they thought this was just a local fad. But after reviewing data from 12 U.S. surveys describing how people spend their time, from 1965 to 2007, they realized they were onto a national trend.

I'm not surprised by this result after hearing moms I know talking about driving their kids to swimming practices, music lessons, and other appointments. Speaking as someone who usually came home from school to an empty house this is rather foreign to my experience. But I would have benefited far more from a bigger and better selection of books to read.

The moms do not report enjoying their shuttling around the kids. Yet some are quitting jobs in order to put more time into it.

The researchers found that, after three decades of decline, the amount of time dedicated to childcare went up dramatically in the past 20 years, even while the number of children per household decreased. The rise began in the mid-1990s. It was twice as great for college-educated parents and was most pronounced among mothers.

On average, the amount of time college-educated women spent on childcare went up from 13 to 22 hours per week since the mid-1990s. By contrast, the amount went up from 11 to 16 hours for women without a college education. Meanwhile, childcare went up from four to 10 hours for college-educated fathers, and from four to eight hours for fathers without a college education.

Most of the increases came from time spent with older, school-age children and especially from time spent on taking the kids from one activity to the next.

Ladies, get your kids great books. Also, pay for online college courses while the kids are still in high school. Let them get ahead by learning and earning college credit years sooner. No driving needed. Turn to the web.

Also, live in a more bike-friendly community near places where kids can bike themselves to events.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2010 March 22 10:40 PM  Economics Family

Mthson said at March 23, 2010 2:48 AM:

Swimming lessons and music lessons, good god... such a soft species.

MMA lessons and a bachelors degree by age 18... that's more like it.

miles said at March 23, 2010 11:31 PM:

Exactly. One can learn so much at home with the web.

Mthson: I was in Atlanta recently, and out in the suburbs I could not believe how many MMA-or-martial art studios I seen out in suburbia. There are gyms everywhere out there as well. That tells me plenty of people in suburban Atlanta want to stay in very good shape, but are afraid they may have to be able to defend themselves physically at some point. One can write that off as vanity, but I think there is a palpable silent fear of the future out there. People can sense the republic's prospects might be different than in the past. Its more than a general nervousness.

Michael L said at March 24, 2010 10:33 AM:

the question whether the moms should spend time on driving is orthogonal to the question whether all those activities have any utility and a good way to spend kids' time. If you don't like driving or can make more money working at the time, hire a nice and safe neighborhood elderly lady to do the driving for you. That will not change the fact that a lot of these activities are a waste of kids' time and effort. It's one thing to give your son education and training needed for him to grow up as an employable adult in those careers that he can expect to enter - it's quite another to keep on jumping through hoops based on superstitions born of an era that is quickly fading.

Mthson said at March 24, 2010 2:23 PM:

Re Miles,

That's interesting if martial art studios are increasing in frequency. An alternative hypothesis for the increasing frequency might simply be the rise of the UFC in the latter half of the 2000s as a increasingly mainstream spectator sport among the younger generation. The UFC's popularity was rising before the current resistance among conservatives and libertarians to the Obama administration.

I think the likelihood is Obama wins in 2012, then Republicans win in 2016, and we'll be back to conservatives and libertarians feeling as confident and resurgent as they did in 2000 and in the 90s under Gingrich's conservative resurgence. Democrat-voting NAMs are reproducing quickly, but I think that increase is going to be tempered by the abysmal fertility rate of latte-drinking white liberals, so I'm not expecting any kind of immediate apocalypse or civil war for conservatives and libertarians who are currently experiencing nervousness.

markymark said at March 25, 2010 3:17 AM:

I think that mothers spending more and more time on their kids is the logical culmination of a belief that the life outcome of their child is determined entirely by the environment (and that genes don't play any sort of significant role). This liberal belief actually harms mothers by making them feel guilty if the don't devote themselves to their child (especially when the child is young).

The environment clearly does play some role, however the parents may not have as much influence as they think. Judith Rich Harris argues that it is a childs peer group that has a huge influence on how the child turns out. If this is correct then a mothers active role in selecting a childs peer group even in the teens may potentially have a significant impact on how that child turns out. This impact would be over and above the box ticking advantages that the extra activities would give a would be college applicant.

JJ said at March 25, 2010 2:00 PM:


In India, the drive to get into good colleges is so immense that kids spend their entire youth studying. Read the above article.

Wolf-Dog said at March 27, 2010 12:33 PM:

Parents Spend More Time Driving Kids To Compete


Can you blame them?

In this abysmal and possibly terminal long term decline of the United States, where so many millions of low and mid-level jobs are disappearing and going to foreign countries, the only remaining jobs that are reasonable, are upscale jobs that the top schools can guarantee. The parents know very well that the only alternative for their kids will be serfs or aristocrats, and very few possibilities between.

NotProgressive said at March 27, 2010 4:59 PM:

Women not being stay at home mothers has a societal consequence. There are no female eyes on the streets keeping things safe. Kids are not going to go outside to play if safe adults are not standing by as a sentry. Two income parents have to shuttle their kids to supervised activities because the streets are not supervised. Sadly, the two incomes are confiscated by Government greed, and servicing banker debt.

Consider that we just put the industrial revolution into hyperdrive with the computer and communication revolution. Americans are producing wealth at a faster rate than ever before in history. Yet, we are getting poorer because our wealth is being siphoned off to service debt and an ever growing government.

If people are working two jobs, then they are too exhausted to pay attention to the shenanigans of our overlord political and banker classes. In the middle ages, a European male worked an average of only 12 weeks to pay for his yearly income. The tally system of money had virtually no inflation or debt, and we can see evidence today of great art and architecture from that period.

The U.S. could easily reverse its decline by adopting debt free Sovereign (Chartalist) money, as Lincoln did with Greenbacks. The individual states need to reassert their Sovereignty, to free themseleves of Feudalist Statist forces that would put us into debt slavery. We need a consitituional convention to undo the damages of the progressive era, namely revoking the 16, 17'th ammendments, and the Federal Reserve Act.

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