The Rug Rat Race

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For much of the 20th century, there had been a steep decline in the amount of time parents in the United States spent with their children, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research. Beginning in the mid-1990s, however, the trend reversed: Despite the transition of women out of the home and into the workforce, time spent on childcare began to increase steadily.

To document these trends, the bureau administered 12 time-use surveys to parents over the past four decades. The surveys were based on time diary information, which the report describes as “the most reliable measure of how individuals spend their time.”

The study broke down childcare into five categories and gathered separate figures for mothers and fathers. The categories, which highlighted parent actions, included general care of young children, general care of older or mixed-aged children, playing with children, teaching children, and traveling for child care purposes (such as picking up and dropping off children).

The report argues that the increase in child care by parents comes as a response to increasing competition in college admissions. The number of college-bound students has surged in recent years, the report states, coincident with the rise in time spent on child care, as parents have focused on preparing their children for higher education. The report attributes the higher amounts of time spent with children in college-educated families – about twice as great as that of families without college educations – to their familiarity with the process.

There was a decrease, however, in time spent on other home activities, such as cleaning and cooking, which apparently were sacrificed to accommodate care focused on education.

Free, 70 pages. http://www.econ.ucsd.edu/~vramey/research/Rugrat.pdf.