Time for the Kids? A Teaser and a Bleg

Today’s parents are spending?dramatically more time on childcare than their parents did.? What’s more, this rise has disproportionately occurred among those with the most education.? At least, that’s the conclusion of a provocative and important study that?Valerie and?Garey Ramey will present at next week’s?Brookings Panel on Economic Activity.

As new parents ourselves, juggling life with a?6 month old daughter (belated happy half-birthday, Matilda!), we’re particularly interested in how parents balance market work and time with their youngsters.?? How are parents today doing this differently than parents a decade ago?? Two decades ago?? To find out, we’re asking you.

If you’ve ever had a child, we want to know about your experience.? We’ve designed a little survey that should take less than five minutes to fill out (and is completely anonymous).? Your response will definitely be helpful in informing discussion of the Ramey and Ramey paper-after all, your data is likely more informative than our theorizing.? So, whether your kid is 6 months, 6 years, 16, or 60, please: Click through HERE, to take this brief survey.

Thanks!? And if you stay tuned, we’ll be back after the conference to discuss Ramey and Ramey’s intriguing findings, the comments of the discussants (Betsey, along with Wharton Ph.D. student?Dan Sacks, and the University of Chicago’s Erik Hurst), and just how your survey answers fit in with all of this.

Ben Sauer

I couldn't find the option for spouse didn't take time off work because she is a stay at home mom. Did I just miss it?


The survey is a bit difficult to answer for some scenarios. Our son is 6 mos old and still breastfeeding which makes it difficult to answer questions such as "when did your latest child stop breastfeeding?", etc.

William G

Epic Fail: "How many weeks leave did your spouse/partner take before returning to work after the birth of your last child?"

Not one of the answers was "My spouse is a stay-at-home spouse."

Let me add a survey question:
Have you stopped beating your spouse and kids?
[ ] Yes
[ ] No

PS- How are you going to handle the effects of selection bias in this survey?


As an educator who talks with parents about this topic all the time, my sense is that one reason parents are spending a lot more time with their kids is the fear of leaving them alone. I know parents who pick their kids up from schools even though they live only four blocks away and parents who won't let their kids out of their sight because they are afraid of something bad happening to them. Many kids nowadays spend almost their entire childhood under adult supervision and are rarely left to their own devices.

I grew up in the late 70's/early 80's in San Francisco, and not only did I start takling the bus (public transit, not the school bus) to school by myself starting when I was nine, but I was pretty much left to my own devices after school each day until my parents got home about 5:00-6:00.

So my impression is that parents coddle their kids a lot more out of fear in this day and age.


Danielle Uskovic

As a working mum of 4 young children, I took your survey but don't think you have examined the right questions. I work because I need to. I want my children to go to nice schools, live in a nice area and have the best of everything but I don't have them in a day care centre. I am fortunate to live near my parents that have taken on a co-caring role. You concentrate on the last child when you really need to ask about EVERY child because I went back to work after each child in varying capacity. I know many other working mum's in similar situations. Some of us even have had the opportunity to work from home while our children are young. All mothers that I refer to are highly qualified (Bachelor Degree or above). Some have opted for a live in nanny or part time nanny, au pair, day care, grandparents, etc. There are so many options but I feel that your survey is assuming that if we are at work that our kids are in a daycare centre.


Hilary Williams

A further flaw is that the survey asks:

After returning to work following the birth of your last child, how many hours per week did your spouse/partner work?

My spouse/partner hasn't returned to work since the birth of our last child
Less than 20 hours per week
20 to less than 30 hours per week
30 to less than 40 hours per week
40 hours per week
41 to 50 hours per week
50 or more hours per week

Why doesn't this simply ask how many hours the spouse/partner currently works? Isn't that the metric the study is actually driving for? How many hours are being spent on market work versus not?

As a divorcee, my spouse/partner isn't the same one who returned to work following the birth of my last child.

Was this survey proofed, vetted, and approved? I really expected better here.


The survey does not ask whether you are currently working. I returned to work, found it intolerable and unfulfilling, then left to be a stay at home parent. There should be a way to capture this. I think it's a fairly common outcome.


The survey asked for my race but didn't ask the race of my wife, which is different than my own.


I think I should not have filled that one out. I work from home, so I took no time off. My husband took over while I was in the hospital. My husband teaches and he had the whole summer off, so is the no time off or 2 months off before returning to work. My life does not fit into a check this box survey very well.


There's a big difference between the amount of time I worked when I first went back to work and the amount of time I work now. And what about men (unlikely for women) who drastically reduce their schedules in the beginning and gradually ramp back up? I.e. they don't really take a "leave" but that's a lot different than not taking time off at all.


i don't want to jump on to the bashing of the questionnaire, but it might be a good idea to ask what country the person is responding from. it's very common for mothers outside of the u.s.a. to take more than 6 months off work, and they often take a year.


This survey does not take into account stay at home parents, or adopted kids ! Plus it looks like there are other stakeholders in this study considering the number of questions on breastfeeding vs formula. If you are truly interested in time spent on kids you would have included questions on division of household chores, time actually spent with kids vs time being spent working from home, day care time, other caregivers, how weekend hours are spent etc etc..
Please redesign your survey. It does not reflect what you are professing to be measuring.
Quite useless!

typewriter heather

My parents never spent money on child care because my mom stayed at home.

But more people in my generation are choosing to work--so maybe that's why we spend more.

Stay-at-home moms really need to be recognized, because they are a big part of this issue.


justin, we had twins. this makes the hours of breastfeeding question misleading.


The increased time on childcare isn't necessarily talking place when the kids are infants. I was babysitting my siblings when I was 10 or so. I began babysitting for other families in seventh or eighth grade.

Babysitting often involved feeding kids, putting them through the bath-brushing-pajama routine, then checking while they slept. Now sitters who train at Red Cross are told not to feed or bathe kids because of liability issues. Plus, a lot of well-educated parents will look down on parents who leave young children in charge of younger children.

Some states don't like children under 12 or 13 to be at home alone, much less supervising other kids. I think well-educated parents are more likely to be aware of the laws (teachers and social workers, for instance, probably know "the rules" have changed). Less well informed parents simply may do for their kids what was done for them, and send the kids out to play or pay a young neighbor to watch them. And some parents who don't have much money simply can't afford after-school care, but the kids are expected to stay home alone to hide the fact they're not supervised.

In my opinion, the nanny state has made parents more afraid to let kids be independent because the parents will be blamed if something happens to the child. At the same time, kids aren't learning basic skills like cooking, woodworking, car repair, sewing and so on in middle school so they can be more independent.


Thomas Sewell

A very poorly designed quiz because it contains all sorts of built-in assumptions. You could use a serious review by someone outside your apparently limited academic social circle.

Your stated purpose is "How are parents today doing this differently than parents a decade ago? Two decades ago? To find out, we're asking you.", yet you fail to ask the most obvious questions related to how many parents are full-time stay-at-home before giving birth.

I don't see how this quiz can result in any meaningful information related to your stated purpose. It's just too flawed...


"How many weeks leave did ... take before returning to work after the birth of your last child?"

This makes NO allowance for a variety of other options, including not being employed outside the home before | after | for more than 6 months.

Did you guys pretest this????? I'm guessing no. No reason not to assume the whole world operates like you and your friends.


Yikes. In addition to the other issues noted above:

How old was the child when he or she completely stopped breastfeeding or being fed breastmilk? (select from dropdown list)

My child was 3.5 months. Which is neither "2 to less than 3" nor "4 to less than 5". But there's no option in between.

Also, "How old was the child when he or she was first fed something other than breastmilk or water?"

There is no option for "My child is still fed only breast milk".

After skipping this quesiton, I abandoned your survey.


I have to agree, that's not much of a survey, especially if it is trying to discover something about how / how much parents spend time with their kids.

Maybe from the perspective of 6 months so many questions about going back to work and breast feeding seem relevant, but that's all over with in a year or so and there's another 16 or so years of very active (and a life time of less active) parenting ahead.

For example, in the years since then our situation has changed dramatically, my wife was a stay at home mom working part time in those days and now works 50+ hour weeks while I homeschool the kids and take care of the house. By breaking off the survey at 18 months (approximately) you very much misrepresent (at least in our case) the total amount of time spent and whether, and to what extent, the father, the mother, or both are involved.

Given that you write of an interest in how much time is spent with the kids it seems odd that there's no question asking how much time parents are spending.... In my case that would be about 70 hours a week for me and another 25 or so for my wife.

I'd imagine that a wide open internet survey of this kind with no way to control for all sorts of variables is probably a preliminary kind of tool intended to provide ideas for more refined study, but really, give a thought to starting over even with this one.



Sometimes I think parents these days think they spend more time with their kids than the previous generation. I do not know if that is true. My folks spent about the same amount of time with me as I do. Sure when I was older I did more things on my own but my kids are not old enough yet to be out and about on their own. Soon though.