Reporting on the study, New York Times blogger Tara Parker-Pope writes that moms and dads alike are spending more time with their kids than ever before, especially if the parental unit is college educated. Good news, right? Absolutely. The not-so-good news, however, may be the reason why.
But first, some numbers. As Parker-Pope writes:
The study, by two economists at the University of California, San Diego, analyzes a dozen surveys of how Americans say they use their time, taken at different periods from 1965 to 2007. It reports that the amount of child care time spent by parents at all income levels — and especially those with a college education — has risen “dramatically” since the mid-1990s. (The findings by the husband-and-wife economist team of Garey Ramey and Valerie A. Ramey appear in a discussion paper presented in March at a Brookings Institution conference in Washington.)
Before 1995, mothers spent an average of about 12 hours a week attending to the needs of their children. By 2007, that number had risen to 21.2 hours a week for college-educated women and 15.9 hours for those with less education.
Although mothers still do most of the parenting, fathers also registered striking gains: to 9.6 hours a week for college-educated men, more than double the pre-1995 rate of 4.5 hours; and to 6.8 hours for other men, up from 3.7, according to an additional analysis by Betsey Stevenson and Dan Sacks, economists at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.
In other words, guilt be gone. All good. Despite our angsting about carving enough family time out of our work-life balance, apparently most of us are doing okay. Not only okay, but better than our own parents did. Plus, there’s this: The researchers also found that a lot of that increased family time involved both parents doing things with their kids, that gendered parenting roles were starting to blur, and that everyone involved had more leisure time — and hooray for that. Back to Parker-Pope:
Women, in particular, are spending less time cooking and cleaning their homes, while men are putting in fewer hours at the office. A 2007 report in The Quarterly Journal of Economics showed that leisure time among men and women surged four to eight hours a week from 1965 to 2003.
All of which bodes well for everyone involved, right? When families spend more time together, rather than less, and when moms spend less time cleaning the house, and dads come home early to help with homework, everybody wins, er, don’t they? Well, why then was Parker-Pope bombarded with a slew of pissed-off comments — spewing terms like “parental narcissism” and “helicopter moms” — from angry readers?
You might look to the title of the study itself for a possible answer: “The Rug Rat Race.” Looking to find an explanation for the increase in family time, especially among highly-educated (and presumably, hard-working professional) parents, the authors suggest that as “the number of college-bound students has surged in recent years,” highly educated parents have begun to “compete more aggressively for college slots” for their kids.
They use the word “rivalry”. Ouch.
Now, clearly it’s all more complicated than the primal urge to keep up with the apocryphal Joneses. And when parents spend time with their kids, it’s almost always a win-win. And yet. If Ramey and Ramey are right, you have to wonder: are we raising a whole new generation of kids who will forever fight to get out from under their parents’ great expectations? If “good enough” will never be, well, “good enough?”