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Parenting in a Time Crunch

When time is more valuable, busy moms and dads devote more of it to their children

On average, Americans actually have a little more free time than they did in earlier in the twentieth century, but they feel like they have less. MPRC faculty associates Melissa Kearney and Philip Cohen were cited in a recent article published in The Economist, which explained that Americans’ widespread feeling of “time poverty” is a problem partly of perception and partly of distribution. Since the financial crises of the 1970s, Americans’ time has become more financially quantifiable and consequently, we feel that we have less of it. The ability to afford leisure time used to be a mark of financial success, with people in lower-status jobs working longer hours than those at the top. But due to decreased job stability in recent years, this pattern has reversed. Those without college degrees have more free time—perhaps because so many are unemployed—while those with higher status jobs must work ever longer hours in order to prove their value.

No one feels the time crunch more than parents. But paradoxically, both mothers and fathers are spending more time with their children than before. Well-educated parents spend significantly more time on child-related activities than their less educated peers, according to a study co-authored by MPRC faculty associate Melissa Kearney, with Jonathan Guryan and Eric Hurst of the University of Chicago. This pattern holds true around the world, especially in wealthier countries. Sociologist Philip Cohen suggests this may be because well-educated parents have more access to a variety of information about how children develop, and are afraid of the consequences of letting their children miss any opportunity that might contribute to their future success. “Parents are now afraid of doing less than their neighbors. It can feel like an arms race,” says Cohen.

Read the article in The Economist

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