Intensively parenting infants

Robert Drago reports in the latest Monthly Labor Review on how much time parents spend in childcare when they have infants under 1 year old. Using 5 years of data from the American Time Use Survey, he finds, not surprisingly, a big gap in childcare time between coupled mothers and fathers (married or cohabiting). But coupled mothers also spend 1.7 hours more per day caring for their infants than do single mothers, mostly because single mothers are more likely to be employed.

Time spent primarily doing activities that involved care dependent children, in hours per day

infant time use

Source: My chart from data in the report, “The parenting of infants: a time-use study

He also analyzed patterns by socioeconomic status (SES), and concludes:

Time-use patterns diverge across lines of socioeconomic status among the parents of infants. High-SES coupled fathers … spent roughly 30 percent more time on primary childcare relative to their counterparts of middle SES, while high-SES coupled mothers spent almost twice as much time engaging in primary childcare as their poor counterparts did. [T]hese findings are consistent with the existence of a norm of intensive mothering among high-SES mothers that has partially evolved to a norm of intensive parenting, cutting across the gender line. …

The same pressures to opt out that appear to confront many coupled mothers also appear to affect many single mothers. In both cases, reductions in work hours may provide the most direct route to an expansion of childcare time during the first year of a child’s life. There is, however, a crucial difference between single mothers and coupled mothers. Single mothers with reduced or zero work hours indeed devoted more time to childcare, but the price was a substantially greater risk of poverty for themselves and their children.

One thought on “Intensively parenting infants

  1. From the child’s perspective, it may not always be a good thing to be cared for by mom or dad. In some cases, child care outside the home gives them better access to peer socialization, better pre-school learning. Also perhaps better independent living skills — and this, I would say, is even more important for rich kids.

    From the parent’s perspective, well, that’s different.


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