Time with young children

On weekdays, women in households with young children spend twice as much time caring for the children as men do. On weekends the ratio is only 1.5-to-1. Details on the chart, which has grid-lines at 6-minute intervals (click to enlarge):


Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics.

These are averages per day calculated from time diaries recording the “primary activity” at each point in the day. Note that this does not do anything with marital status or household composition, so a lot more of these women are single mothers. That’s not a flaw in the presentation, though. Part of having a lot of single mothers means they spend more time with children, as these data show.

5 thoughts on “Time with young children

  1. These ratios from the 2008 time use survey are very similar to the ones forund a decade or two ago (except that fathers seem to have increased their week-end role). In comparison, the Scandinavians do show fundamental change. From the Danish 2003 time use study we estimate that fathers devote, on average, about 43 percent of total child time (and a full 30 percent of Danish fathers devote more time to their kids than do the mothers).

    Here change came quite abruptly. From earlier Danish time use data we see a pattern similar to the US: Danish mothers spent twice as much time on the kids as did the fathers. The big challenge is to understand what propels real change.It is probably not because Danes are better boy scouts. My hunch is that the decisive shift occurs when full-time career dedication among mothers becomes the universal norm.

    Gosta Esping-Andersen


    1. Change did come in the U.S.; the ratio of mothers’ time to fathers’ time declined from 4.0 in 1965 to 1.7 in 1998/9 (see Bianchi, Sayer, Milkie and Robinson, Social Forces, 2012, 91: 58) — but it plateaued there. A similar stall occurred in the gender housework ratio, although stalling even earlier in the mid 1990s.

      So I would add to Esping-Andersen’s challenge not just what propels real change, but also what stops it? The answers may not be just two sides of the same coin. In fact, most movements for real change do stall at some time (besides gender inequality in the U.S., e.g., racial inequality in the U.S.; the union movement). Although it’s often more immediately interesting to study the origins of change, we also need more work on its endings (or at least, on its pauses)


      1. Why assume that there is a problem because change has stopped in this case? Perhaps it has succeeded, achieved a natural end point, a point at which no further change is desired.
        While it’s accurate to describe many of these changes as “stalled” or “plateaued,” the implication is that this is problematic.
        So, what is your end-point for change in time spent on child care in families, equal time, 50-50? What is the basis for your choice of end-point? Is there evidence that human beings are happier, or better off in any way if they share all family duties 50-50? Is division of labor always a problem?


  2. It’s hard to see why this is even worth noting. Is it evidence of inequality in the family? Only if you expect women and men to have lives that are identical.

    Is it surprising that women, who alone can create children inside their bodies, give birth to them, and nurse them, would be more involved in their care? Is this a problem?


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