Why Are You Spending More Time With Your Kids?

An exceptionally neat new working paper points out that parents’ time spent with kids has increased hugely since the early 1990′s, particularly among highly educated parents.

This is a remarkable fact, and surprising; these are the same parents whose value of time (their wage rate) has increased relative to that of all parents, as, unsurprisingly, have their hours working for pay (since we know that labor supply responds to wage rates). They thus have less non-work time available and are spending even more of it with their kids. Why the surprising result?

The authors go through and demolish a large number of explanations and offer their own: that the demand for places at top-notch colleges has increased (as the number of high-school grads has grown), while the supply of places at the Harvards, Amhersts, and yes, even the UT-Austins has changed little. This increased relative demand has provided growing incentives for kids to distinguish themselves — and for their parents to spend time helping them do so. One nice test of the theory makes the same comparison — highly educated versus less-educated over time — for Canada, where there appears to be less gradation in perceived quality across universities than here. In the North, unlike here, there has been no divergence in time spent with kids by parents with differing educational attainment.

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  1. oz says:

    Maybe at least part of the explanation is that it has become
    much easier in many jobs (especially jobs requiring high-level education) to work from home? This blurs the distinction between work and leisure time and has enabled parents to stay home for longer hours with their kids while being able to do some work, at least part of the time

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  2. Mattk says:

    Maybe these parents simply enjoy spending time with their kids and find that the emotional rewards outweigh the potential economic rewards of more work.

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  3. Andrea says:

    Who is surprised? Not me. Parents now spend less time having their “own” lives, instead consumed with their kids–either in a helicopter way or a disturbing my-kid-is-my-friend way. Also, parents spend less time together–alone. And that’s why marriages end.

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  4. Brian says:

    The utility of marginal wages declines as total income increases. The utility of time spent with kids wins the competition at higher incomes. In other words, if I can assure myself of a comfortable income, more money doesn’t matter that much. Now I can do other things that make me happy.

    Another aspect may be time-horizon. People who are highly educated and tend to be successful in careers may be more future-oriented. Low-income, less-educated people may tend to be more fixated on themselves and the here and now.

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  5. Peripetatic Entrepreneur says:

    Nice to know that I’m not the only one terrified by the prospect of ones kids competing directly against a cohort from the entire planet. Things were easier for us in the 80′s and 90′s …

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  6. Lisa says:

    I wish these parents would knock it off. Their adult offspring (or, as the parents put it, their “children”) get to college completely unable to take care of themselves. Professors are not babysitters; it is not our job to coddle your adult offspring. Please, parents, let your children and teens play outside and walk down the street unaccompanied. Let them have jobs and stop teaching them that they deserve everything they desire by paying for their cars, their gasoline, and their insurance. Let them develop a sense of independence. Otherwise, when they are 18, just keep them in high school where you must secretly want them anyway.

    Who wants a to hire a Harvard grad if that grad can’t even pick out socks for the day without consulting mommy first?

    Another difference between Canada and the US concerning college: Canadian students do not think they deserve As just for showing up, they do not think that professors should hold their hands or offer them special treatment. Americans students, are the complete opposite and the nation will suffer one day as a result.

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  7. Doug B says:

    From the working paper:

    “A fourth possible explanation may be that childcare is best classified as leisure because it generates high enjoyment. We show that surveys of enjoyment of basic childcare in 1985 and in the mid-2000s do not support this notion.”

    Although parents may claim that they don’t enjoy childcare, they feel like they are “supposed to” enjoy it, therefore they do more of it, inspite of the fact that they don’t enjoy it?

    Alternatively, I would suggest what I would call the “Huxtable Effect”. Parents raising kids these days were, in all likelihood, viewers of “The Cosby Show”, which ran from 1984-92 (or possibly “Family Ties” or other family-based sitcoms of the era). Almost all of the action on those shows happened in the home, so despite the fact that Cliff was a doctor and Claire was a lawyer, we all grew up thinking that in the ideal home, Mom and Dad were around almost all of the time. Having grown up ourselves in homes where either a) parents were divorced, or b) Dad worked all of the time, we decided that we were going to be less like our own parents and more like the Huxtables.

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  8. georgia says:

    maybe it’s because babysitters and nannies (which seem to be disproportionately used by more highly educated/higher income parents) are so expensive that people can only afford them for the bare minimum of time!

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