Parental education and parental time with children

Jonathan Guryan, Erik Hurst, Melissa S. Kearney, 5 July 2008

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In an April 2008 column, New York Times columnist David Brooks asserted:

In the decades since [fifty-five years ago], some social divides, mostly involving ethnicity, have narrowed. But others, mostly involving education, have widened. Today there is a mass educated class. The college educated and non-college educated are likely to live in different towns. They have radically different divorce rates and starkly different ways of raising their children. The non-college educated not only earn less, they smoke more, grow more obese and die sooner.

While we cannot speak to all of his assertions, our recent research (Hurst, Guryan, and Kearney 2008) show that he is right about at least one element of raising children differently. College-educated and non-college educated parents allocate quite different amounts of time to their children, with the more highly educated parents devoting more to their kids.

Thus in addition to earning more money, and therefore being better equipped to give their children material advantages such as better neighborhoods, private schooling, the best health care, etc., more educated parents are also devoting more time to their children. Our review of time-use data – i.e. data based on diaries in which a sample of people keep track of their time use throughout the day – from around the world suggests that this is by no means a uniquely American pattern. It generally holds across and within the 14 countries for which we obtain the necessary data.

Parental time in child care: the US evidence

In the United States, women spend roughly twice as much time caring for children as do men – a pattern that holds true for all demographic subgroups that we examine (subgroups defined by marital and working status); for men the average is 6.8 hours per week, for women it’s 14.0 hours. For both men and women, basic child care activities consume the largest amount of child-care time. Men, however, spend more of this time in recreational activities with their children.1 As expected, we find that non-working women with children spend on average 7 more hours in child care per week than their working counterparts. As previous time-use researchers have shown, married women and women with young children spend more time in child care than single women or women with older children.

Women with more education spend more time in child care, as shown in Table 1. Women with less than a high school degree spend an average of 12.1 hours per week in child care. College-educated women (years 16) and women with education beyond a college degree (years 16+) spend 16.5 and 17.0 hours in child care, respectively. Furthermore, higher-educated women with children are much more likely to be working and have fewer children (Table 2) which makes the pattern of child care across education groups even more surprising.

Statistical analysis

When our empirical analysis controls for a woman’s age, number of children, marital status, and age of youngest child, the differences in child care time by education group are even larger. We also document that essentially the same education gradient holds for all four types of care (basic, educational, recreational, and travel) and for all four groups considered (working women, non-working women, working men, and non-working men).

Table 1: Hours of child care per week for US women by education

 Years of Schooling

All women with children

 Non-working women with children

Working women with children
 
 
< 12
12.1
14.9
8.3
 
 
12
12.6
17.6
9.8
 
 
13-15
13.3
18.9
11.4
 
 
16
16.5
22.6
14.2
 
 
16+
17
25.9
14.4
 

Source: Hurst, Erik, Jonathan Guryan, and Melissa Kearney. 2008. “Parental Education and Parental Time Use.” National Bureau of Economic Research WP 13993. May

Table 2. Average characteristic US women by education.

Years of Schooling
Fraction of women working
Total market work (hours)
Number of children
 
 
< 12
0.42
14.6
2.2
 
12 (high school)
0.65
22.3
1.9
 
13-15 (some higher education)
0.74
25.3
1.9
 
16 (Bachelors)
0.72
23.7
1.9
 
16+
0.79
27.4
1.8
 

Source: Hurst, Erik, Jonathan Guryan, and Melissa Kearney. 2008. “Parental Education and Parental Time Use.” National Bureau of Economic Research WP 13993. May.

Child care is distinct from both home production and leisure

Our analysis of American time-use data yields another surprising finding. While education and time-with-children is positively related, there is a steep negative correlation between education and leisure, and education and home production activities (e.g. cleaning and cooking).2 For example, when comparing non-working women with more than a college degree against those with less than a high school degree, we find that, all else equal, the more highly educated women some 6.1 fewer hours per week in home production and 7.3 fewer hours per week in leisure activities. When it comes to comparing working women, those with more than a college degree spend 4.4 fewer hours per week in home production and 4.8 fewer hours per week in leisure compared those without high school degree. (We find the same negative correlation between education and leisure for working men.)

Why?

We offer four possible explanations for why child care patterns by education differ from the leisure and home production patterns.

  • Parents view the output of investing in children as being more of a luxury good than either traditional home production or leisure goods.
  • Parents view market-purchased child care options as poor substitutes for parental time, relative to the degree of substitutability between expenditures and time in the production of typical home produced goods. Higher-educated parents may be more likely to feel that market alternatives are not good substitutes for their own time spent with their children.
  • Higher-educated parents have a greater preference for the output generated by time spent with their children, at least relative to their preferences for home produced and leisure goods; or, conversely, lower-educated parents have a greater relative preference for their own leisure.
  • The return to investment in children from higher-income/higher-education parents is higher. Importantly, this explanation requires that parents do not consider market alternatives to be highly effective substitutes for their own time spent in child care.

We cannot say which of these is responsible for the facts we found; more research is needed.

Parental time in child care: around the world

Do these patterns observed in the United States exist across and within other countries? We examine recent years of data from a sample of 14 countries (Table 2) for which we were able to obtain comparable time use data. The data show that, on average, parents in countries with higher GDP per capita spend more time in child care. Parents in the United States, Canada, and Norway spend the most amount of time caring for their children. Parents in South Africa, France, and Slovenia spend the least amount of time in child care. See Table 2.

Table 3: Hours per week with children, 14 nations.

 

 

GDP per capita (US $)

Women with children

All with children

Men with children

 

 

 

 

 

Norway

37,200

11.7

8.88

5.68

US

34,300

11.64

8.93

5.62

UK

24,500

9.83

7.23

4.17

Netherlands

24,200

8.91

6.83

4.36

Austria

23,900

12.27

8.33

3.57

Canada

23,600

11.2

8.56

5.61

France

21,800

6.83

4.43

1.82

Germany

23,100

10.49

7.25

3.87

Italy

19,000

10.37

7.32

4.03

Slovenia

9,700

7.21

5.03

2.75

Chile

4,900

7.9

5.65

2.69

Estonia

4,100

9.37

6.64

2.97

South Africa

2,900

5.88

4.03

0.6

Palestine

1,200

12.35

6.38

2.09

Notes: Within each country, the samples include all individuals between the ages of 21 and 55 (inclusive) with at least one child under the age of 18 present in the household who had time diaries summing to a complete day (i.e., 1440 minutes). All means are calculated using fixed demographic weights adjusted to equally represent each day of the week within subgroups. The GDP per capita numbers are all expressed in 2000 US dollars.

Of course, there are dramatic differences in the demographics of parents across the countries we examine. For example, maternal labour force participation ranges from a low of 12% in Palestine to over 65% in Canada, Norway, Slovenia, United Kingdom, and United States. Countries also differ with regard to the age distribution of parents as well as number of children. We use regression analysis to adjust for such differences across countries. This adjustment makes the relationship between per capita GDP and time spent with children even more positive. For both men and women separately, the simple correlation between the average time spent on child care (after purging demographic differences across the countries) and GDP per capita for the 14 countries for which we have time use data is well above 0.8.

We also confirm that the US patterns of the educational gradient of time spent with children within each country in our sample. In short, more educated (and presumably higher-income) individuals spend more time in child care than their less educated (and presumably lower-income) counterparts in all countries analysed.

Concluding remarks

We draw three major empirical conclusions about parental child care time:

  • Higher earnings or earnings potential are associated with more time spent with children, even though higher earnings parents also work more hours in the labor market;
  • This relationship appears to hold within the United States, across other countries, and within other countries examined; and
  • This positive education/income gradient in time spent in child care is the opposite of the education/income gradient observed for typical leisure and home production activities.

Collectively, our results suggest that time spent with one’s children is more highly valued by individuals with a higher opportunity-cost of their time, as measured by earnings potential. This result could arise if caring for children is a “luxury good”; if more educated parents have a lower elasticity of substitution between own and market-based child care (or just a higher relative preference for time spent with their children); or if the returns to investing in the children of more educated parents are relatively higher.

Regardless of why parents with more education and income spend more time on their children, the very fact has important implications for the intergenerational transmission of human capital.

The fact that the children of higher-educated parents enjoy more time with the active attention of their parents, or conversely that the children of lower-education parents receive less, may have important effects on both sets of children’s future outcomes, both economic and otherwise.

References

Aguiar, Mark and Erik Hurst. 2007. “Measuring Trends in Leisure: The Allocation of Time Over Five Decades,” Quarterly Journal of Economics, 122(3): 969-1006.

Hurst, Erik, Jonathan Guryan, and Melissa Kearney. 2008. “Parental Education and Parental Time Use.” Journal of Economic Perspectives 22(3). Summer, forthcoming.

Hurst, Erik, Jonathan Guryan, and Melissa Kearney. 2008. “Parental Education and Parental Time Use.” National Bureau of Economic Research working paper 13993. May.

Footnotes

1 Our paper examines data from the 2003-2006 American Time Use Survey. We define time in child care to consist of time spent in four categories of activities: "basic" (including feeding, rocking, breastfeeding, bathing, etc); "educational" (reading to children, helping them with homework, etc); "recreational" (playing games with children, taking walks with children, etc); and "travel" (driving a child to school, to the doctor, etc.)

2 These results are similar to those documented in Aguiar and Hurst (2007), who examine leisure and home production differences across education groups for women and men.

Topics: Education, Poverty and income inequality
Tags: child care, income, parental education

Associate Professor of Economics at the University of Chicago

V. Duane Rath Professor of Economics and Neubauer Family Faculty Fellow at the University of Chicago

Assistant Professor at the Department of Economics, University of Maryland