David Brooks writes about a study that finds a leap in parental time with children.
First, parents are spending more time with their kids today than in
previous generations. Before 1995, mothers spent on average 12 hours a
week with their children. By 2007, that number had leapt to 21.2 for
college-educated moms and 15.9 hours for those with less education.
Paternal time leapt from 4.5 hours to 9.6 hours, among the
college-educated and from 3.7 to 6.8 among the less educated.
Tara Parker-Pope has more information on the latest findings.
So where is the extra time coming from? Women, in particular, are
spending less time cooking and cleaning their homes, while men are
putting in fewer hours at the office. A 2007 report in The Quarterly
Journal of Economics showed that leisure time among men and women
surged four to eight hours a week from 1965 to 2003.
Notably, the data in the Ramey study do not count the hours mothers
and fathers spend “around” their children — at the dinner table, for
example, or in solitary play. Instead, the survey tracks specific
activities in which the parent is directly involved in the child’s care.
“It’s taking them to school, helping with homework, bathing them,
playing catch with them in the back yard,” said a co-author of the
leisure-time paper, Erik Hurst, an economist at the University of
Chicago Booth School of Business. “Those are the activities that have
increased over the last 15 to 20 years.”
Brooks wonders about the correlation between parental attention and educational achievement.
I was fascinated by how parental time correlates to education. Is it
possible that college-educated parents are spending more time passing
down their advantages than other parents? Could it be that the rich
replicate themselves by dint of hard work and parental attention, on
top of all the other less worthy advantages?
Parents are spending more attention to their kids. Women are letting their homes go messy or outsourcing the labor in order to free up nearly 20 hours a week of quality time with their kids. Men still only spend ten hours a week of good time with the kids, but it's still an improvement. They are leaving work early in order to coach the soccer team. There's an improvement across economic classes, but more educated parents are still spending more time with their kids than less educated parents.
While there will be a few that will scream "helicopter parents" when they read this study and bemoan the lost days of childhood independence, I can't see any downsides to this major sociological shift.
15 thoughts on “The Surge in Family Time”
Alone time for parents whose lives revolve around their kids.
According to the Parker-Pope article, kids of the earlier era, when asked about what they wanted most of all (vis-a-vis their parents), the answer was more attention. Now, the kids are more likely to say for their parents not to be so stressed.
But I’m in a stressed out mood, having bought out an extra day of daycare today to finish this darned conference paper. So I’m cranky.
“Notably, the data in the Ramey study do not count the hours mothers and fathers spend “around” their children — at the dinner table, for example…”
“It’s taking them to school, helping with homework, bathing them, playing catch with them in the back yard,”
So chauffeuring counts, but eating dinner together doesn’t? Weird.
So chauffeuring counts…
It better. Mine wants me to repeat Phineas and Ferb plots the whole way to school.
I would guess that some of the reason that less educated parents spend less time with their kids is that the kinds of jobs they have aren’t at all flexible and/or they are working more than one job. While professionals are able to take off early for the occasional soccer game, those working in hourly jobs probably don’t have that luxury.
It’s also because of different styles of parenting between middle-class and lower income families.
And, yeah, I get the stress, Julie. After a long day at work yesterday, Steve had two little boys climbing all over him. Then Ian had a major wipe-out on the street and was bleeding all over and crying. It’s hard to be patient and calm and attentive, after you’ve put in a twelve hour day.
I think this is partly about the desire to retain cultural capital across generations, knowing that it’s no longer about a relatively stable set of respectably middle-class practices, and that the points where cultural capital translates into meritocratic status are now also exceptionally murky and unsettling. On one hand, that makes a lot of aspiring middle to upper-middle class parents push their kids very very hard towards anything that looks like an island of class stability in terms of professional careers, and at the same time, it makes a lot of them want to create a highly individual, culturally and emotionally dense domestic world for the family that will have the subtle kinds of cultural capital that parents hope will continue to be an entree to some kind of success. (For themselves and for their children).
laura — hope Ian is okay! I noticed that the text you included said there was an increase in leisure time for the different eras. I wonder if current parents are spending most of their leisure time with the kids — how much of an overlap there is there.
By the way, to all the folks wondering: I love my daughter and love playing with her in the park! (Goes defensively back to looking at political science….)
Helicoptering, from my perspective, isn’t time with kids, though. It’s time apart from kids, bugging their teachers. I’ve yet to have any parent (or coach) show up with the student in question to harangue about a grade.
Not saying there might not be a correlation, mind. But I’ve never yet seen any parent-child pair spending quality time yelling at the college staff together. (And I’m not really certain that these parents are the ones who spend the most time with their kids, either.)
I think there’s another thing there. Dads don’t go off and do their own thing on the weekend, away from family, as I remember them doing when I was a kid (back in the Paleolithic era). There is so much less separation of the spheres now. Once up on a time, it was Mom who took Junior and maybe a friend or two to the kiddie museum on the weekend, while Dad played golf or tinkered with the car. Now, Dad is expected to join in.
Also, families are smaller – one or two kids is the norm, it’s easier to have family time in a small family than with six kids each spaced two or three years apart, with vastly different maturity levels and interests.
Julie G. — ” I wonder if current parents are spending most of their leisure time with the kids…”
yeah, I wonder, too. Maybe dads are spending less time watching football games with their buddies and more time watching the games with their kids.
No need to be defensive, Julie. You’re a great mom and your daughter gets a TON of mommy/daddy time. One extra day in daycare is nothing.
So I love my daughter, but, I don’t like playing with her in the park. I don’t feel defensive about it, either.
Thanks, bj and laura. Clearly I needed some virtual support and was crying out for it! 🙂
I think I spend less time with friends than my parents did – dinner parties and bridge clubs and the like. But then, I have Facebook etc.
The downside is for the parents. The rise of technology has enabled my workplace to put heaps more work on me and have me on-call for all sorts of things. Yet as a feminist man, I’m committed to supporting my wife’s career and being with my family. So I’m constantly stressed by the amount of work I have and feel guilty when I’m half-assed with my kids and let them watch tv or play computer or wii while I make dinner or bathe one of the three.
And yes, smaller families make a huge difference. The third of our two carefully planned children combined with a collapsing economy pushed both my wife and I to near breaking point levels and our kids (definitely our oldest) felt it too. Things are marginally better now (thanks therapy and drugs!) but we are constantly sacrificing one child’s interests (usually the baby’s) for the others. Fortunately our third kid is pretty mellow and understands that unless he is actually on fire, he will probably have to wait a few minutes to get whatever it is he wants.
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