It Takes A Full Day To Raise Two Kids

May 12, 1997

ITHACA, N.Y. -- Parents with two children put in 7.5 hours a day raising kids -- three times more than experts had previously estimated because they had only considered primary child care, a Cornell University time-use expert has found.

"When time-use experts reported that parents spend an hour and 42 minutes a day in primary child care activities, parents balked, knowing it was far from their true efforts," said Cornell's time-use expert, Keith Bryant. "Our new data much more accurately reflects the kind of time parents really put into raising their children."

For the first time, researchers here have added together all the time parents put in raising their kids; that includes primary child care (bathing, dressing, teaching, supervising, counseling, driving and feeding children), but also secondary child care (time spent with children while doing other things, such as cooking, housework, hobbies, etc.) and shared leisure, household work and eating times -- what many parents call "quality" time -- playing together, watching TV or eating meals together.

In a new Cornell publication, Child Rearing Time by Parents: A Report of Research in Progress, part of the Consumer Close-Up series published by Cornell's College of Human Ecology, Bryant and Zick summarize their three published 1996 studies. The research analyzes the amount of time parents in two-parent, two-children families spend raising children, spaced three years apart, to age 18. (The study, therefore, covers a 21-year period.) They used data from the 1975-1981 Time Use Longitudinal Panel Study, the 1977-78 Eleven State Time Use Survey and the 1985 Americans Use of Time Data, and did not look at families with one child or more than two children.

All told, parents with two children spend an average of 57,661 hours -- almost eight hours a day -- raising them to age 18, much of this occurring while the children are younger than age 6.

"When mothers don't work throughout the child-rearing years, the parents together spend about 7.7 hours a day on child-rearing, compared with 7.3 hours when the mothers work throughout their children's youths," said Keith Bryant, professor of policy analysis and management in Cornell's College of Human Ecology, who collaborated with Cathleen Zick (Cornell Ph.D. '82) of the University of Utah. "That's a difference of about 23 minutes a day."

Also, at-home moms put in 65 percent of the child-rearing time, while working moms put in 60 percent, Bryant said.

The researchers also found that fathers with two sons spend 1,000 more hours with them sharing leisure time and 1,000 more hours in shared household work than do fathers with two daughters.

During child-rearing, parents spend about 22 percent of their efforts in primary child care, 10 percent in secondary child care, 13 percent sharing household work, 31 percent sharing leisure activities and 25 percent sharing mealtimes with children, regardless of whether the mother works or not.

In one study, Bryant and Zick compared mothers from 1985 with mothers from the 1920s. Their findings, published in the Journal of Family & Economic Issues (Vol. 17, pp. 385-392, 1996), include:

"There is no evidence, therefore, that parents are spending less time in primary child care activities than they used to," Bryant and Zick report. "Rather, they are spending more."

In Social Science Research (Vol. 25, pp. 1-21, 1996), the researchers report on primary and secondary child care and how a mother's employment and the age of the youngest child influenced hours put into both types of care. Among their findings:

"These are small numbers that gain significance when they're added up over the entire child-rearing period," Bryant said. "The difference is about halved, however, when mothers become employed after the youngest child turns age 6. Since child development experts argue that most development occurs before age 3, the difference in the time parents spend in child rearing by the employment status of the mother may turn out to be relatively unimportant."In the Journal of Marriage and the Family (Vol. 58, pp. 227-237, 1996), the researchers looked at shared parent-child time and how it is affected by the mother's employment and the children's gender.

Cornell University

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