Join Date: Aug 2004
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A Bit Of Good News(?) About Families
Married and Single Parents Spending More Time With Children, Study Finds
By ROBERT PEAR
New York Times, October 17, 2006
WASHINGTON — 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. “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.
At first, the authors say, “it seems reasonable to expect that parental investment in child-rearing would have declined” since 1965, when 60% of all children lived in families with a breadwinner father and a stay-at-home mother. Only about 30% 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. 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.” 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.
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 authors cited several factors to help explain how parents managed to spend more time with their children, despite working longer hours:
--Many couples delay having children to “a point later in life when they want to spend time with those children.” People who are uninterested in raising children can “opt out of parenting altogether,” by using birth control.
--Families are smaller today than in 1965, and parents are more affluent, so they can invest more time and money in each child.
--Social norms and expectations have changed, prompting parents to make “greater and greater investments in child-rearing.” As couples have fewer children, they feel “pressure to rear a perfect child.”
--Many parents feel they need to keep a closer eye on their children because of concerns about crime, school violence, child abduction and abuse.
While married mothers and married fathers were approaching “gender equality,” measured by total hours of work, the researchers found stark differences among women. These disparities suggest why working mothers often feel hurried and harried. 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.
I'm a little surprised by some of the reasons the researchers offered to explain the childcare-time increases--it's not my impression, for example, that the younger parents I know spend less time with their children than the older ones. (Although I'm biased here, since we belong to that category, I think--we're 35 with 3 kids.) It's also not my impression that the (few) parents with larger families we know spend less time with their kids than those with smaller families, although the one-on-one time per child is probably less. I can relate to that schoolteacher who grades papers on the sidelines at her kids' sporting events--I do exactly the same thing!
The "pressure to rear a perfect child" bit, to the extent that it's true, is maybe one to feel a little more ambivalent about--it does
take a tremendous amount of time to monitor childrens' behavior, ensure they're learning all the lessons you want them to etc., but on the other hand it's also true that time with them in and of itself won't do the trick; it's what you do with it that counts. I do think it's regrettable that most kids today spend so much less time than they used to simply playing outdoors with their friends, with no more parental involvement required than a watchful lookout from the window--kids need that type of socialization too, in my opinion; their peer contact shouldn't be limited to adult-controlled environments like school and organized sports.
And of course, it's good news that working fathers are increasingly following working mothers' lead by spending more of their free time interacting with their children. I'm not surprised that employed mothers put in longer (paid + unpaid) "work" weeks than mothers who work strictly at home--that stands to reason, although I guess there's something a little sad in the fact that working parents of both sexes have to do all this multitasking, getting less sleep etc. in order to spend more time with their children. But that's life.
What are your impressions of these changes? Do the findings of this study ring true with what you're seeing, in your own lives and in those of your peers? Is this all purely good news, or are there some problematic aspects to it?