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.