Do parents spend enough time with children?
Despite the surge of women into the work force, mothers are spending
at least as much time with their children today as they did 40 years
ago, and the amount of child care and housework performed by fathers has
sharply increased, researchers say in a new study, based on analysis of
thousands of personal diaries.
In Miami, Ian D. Abrams says he has done more cooking and cleaning
since the birth of his daughter, Marley. Tammy L. Curtis, right, a
schoolteacher in the Phoenix area, with her daughter, Kamryn, 9, and
son, Colin, 5.
"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
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.
For married mothers, the time spent on child care activities
increased to an average of 12.9 hours a week in 2000, from 10.6 hours in
1965. For married fathers, the time spent on child care more than
doubled, to 6.5 hours a week, from 2.6 hours. Single mothers reported
spending 11.8 hours a week on child care, up from 7.5 hours in 1965.
"As the hours of paid work went up for mothers, their hours of
housework declined," said Ms. Bianchi, a former president of the
Population Association of America. "It was almost a one-for-one trade."
Meaghan O. Perlowski, a 32-year-old mother of three in Des Moines,
said in an interview, "Spending time with my kids is my highest
priority, but it's a juggling act."
Ms. Perlowski, who is a full-time pharmaceutical sales
representative, said she did grocery shopping and errands on her lunch
hour and cut back on housework so she would have more time with her
"We don't worry much about keeping the house spotless," she said.
"It's sometimes a mess, cluttered with school papers, backpacks and
toys, but that's O.K."
Fathers have picked up some of the slack. Married fathers are
spending more time on housework: an average of 9.7 hours a week in 2000,
up from 4.4 hours in 1965. That increase was more than offset by the
decline in time devoted to housework by married mothers: 19.4 hours a
week in 2000, down from 34.5 hours in 1965.
When Ms. Perlowski took a business trip on Thursday, her husband,
Jim, took time from work to be home with their children, ages 1, 4 and
In Miami, Ian D. Abrams, a 33-year-old marketing executive, said that
since his daughter was born two years ago, he had done "a substantial
amount of cooking and cleaning, to take that burden off my wife," but he
admitted that home repairs were often delayed.His wife, Yolanda, took a
full-time job as a state court employee when their daughter, Marley, was
14 months old.
The researchers found that many parents juggled their work and family
duties by including children in their own leisure and free-time
activities. Married mothers, in particular, often combine child care
with other activities.
Tammy L. Curtis, 34, a schoolteacher in Glendale, Ariz., outside
Phoenix, said she typically worked from 7 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., but always
made time for her 5-year-old son and 9-year-old daughter.
"I cook less," Ms. Curtis said. "I exercise less. And I do a lot of
multitasking. When my son is at soccer practice, I sit on the sidelines
grading papers. I have no time for personal relaxation."
The book's two other co-authors, Prof. John P. Robinson and Melissa
Milkie, are also sociologists at the University of Maryland. Rather
than relying on anecdotes and images in the mass media, the researchers
used "time diaries" to measure how families spent their time.
Using a standard set of questions, professional interviewers asked
parents to chronicle all their activities on the day before the
Katharine G. Abraham, a former commissioner of labour statistics,
said the new book provided "the definitive word" on how parents
allocated time between paid work and family responsibilities. The most
recent numbers, for 2000, are remarkably similar to time-use data in a
new survey conducted annually since 2003 by the Bureau of Labour
Statistics and the Census Bureau.
"It indicates that parents, especially mothers, instinctively know
that the line promoted by social scientists in the 1960's and 70's -
that professional child care can provide all the things that maternal
care can - is not correct," Mr. Bauer said. "Mothers made adjustments in
their own lives to ensure that, even with jobs outside the home, they
provide what only mothers can provide."
The authors cited several factors to help explain how parents managed
to spend more time with their children, despite working longer hours:
Over all, the researchers said, employed mothers have less free time
and "far greater total workloads than stay-at-home mothers." The
workweek for an employed mother averages 71 hours, almost equally
divided between paid and unpaid work, compared with a workweek averaging
52 hours for mothers who are not employed outside the home.
On average, the researchers said, employed mothers get somewhat less
sleep and watch less television than mothers who are not employed, and
they also spend less time with their husbands.
(NY Times online)