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Guilt-ridden busy moms and dads take heart: Mothers – and fathers – across most Western countries are spending more time with their children than parents did in the mid-’60s, according to a University of California, Irvine study.
And time spent with kids is highest among better-educated parents – a finding that somewhat surprised study co-author Judith Treas, UC Irvine Chancellor’s Professor of Sociology.
“According to economic theory, higher wages should discourage well-educated parents from foregoing work to spend extra time with youngsters,” she said. “Also, they have the money to pay others to care for their children.”
“The time parents spend with children is regarded as critical for positive cognitive, behavioral and academic outcomes,” says UC Irvine’s Judith Treas, co-author of a study comparing child care time across 11 Western countries between 1965 and 2012.
Credit: UC Irvine School of Social Sciences
Treas and co-author Giulia M. Dotti Sani, a postdoctoral fellow at Collegio Carlo Alberto in Turin, Italy, found that between 1965 and 2012, all but one of 11 Western nations showed an increase in the amount of time both parents spent with their kids. The study was published online in the August issue of the Journal of Marriage and Family.
In 1965, mothers spent a daily average of 54 minutes on child care activities, while moms in 2012 averaged almost twice that at 104 minutes per day. Fathers’ time with children nearly quadrupled – 1965 dads spent a daily average of just 16 minutes with their kids, while today’s fathers spend about 59 minutes a day caring for them.
These numbers include parents from all education levels. When the researchers broke out the 2012 data into two categories – parents with a college education versus parents without – they found quite a difference.
College-educated moms spent an estimated 123 minutes daily on child care, compared with 94 minutes spent by less educated mothers. Fathers with a college degree spent about 74 minutes a day with their kids, while less educated dads averaged 50 minutes.
Only one outlier: France
Study findings were based on the Multinational Time Use Study Harmonized Simple Files, which focused on parents between the ages of 18 and 65 living in households with at least one child under the age of 13. From 1965 to 2012, the 122,271 parents (68,532 mothers, 53,739 fathers) in Canada, the U.K, the U.S., Denmark, Norway, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, Spain and Slovenia were asked to keep a diary of all their daily activities. Researchers analyzed differences by randomly selecting one day from each diary and tabulating the amount of time recorded for both interactive and routine child care activities.
“Time spent with children involved everything from preparing their meals and snacks to feeding and bathing them, changing diapers and clothes, putting them to bed, getting up in the middle of the night, unpaid babysitting, providing medical care, reading and playing with them, as well as supervising and helping with homework,” Treas said.
France was the only country that showed a decrease in mothers’ child care time. The decline was not as steep for college-educated moms as it was for less educated French mothers, while for dads, both education levels saw an increase in parenting time.
According to Treas, the study results – aside from France – are in line with an “intensive parenting” ideology that has become a cultural child rearing trend.
“The time parents spend with children is regarded as critical for positive cognitive, behavioral and academic outcomes,” she said. “Contemporary fathers – having more egalitarian gender views – want to be more involved in their children’s lives than their own dads were. These beliefs have taken hold among the best-educated residents of Western countries and are also diffusing to their counterparts who have less schooling.”
As for the difference in France, Treas said, “No one is certain why the French are exceptional. Public spending on child care is fairly high in France, lightening parental responsibilities. Some experts speculate that the French simply believe children can accommodate successfully without parents making big changes to their lifestyles.”
(Laura’s note: I’m taking the week off and revisiting some blog posts from years past. This post ran in spring of 2010).
Tara Parker-Pope’s Well blog over at the New York Times highlighted findings this week from economists Garey and Valerie Ramey that college-educated parents are spending lots more time with their kids than they did a generation ago. The Rameys studied time diaries kept during different periods from 1965 to 2007. They found that before 1995, mothers spent an average of 12 hours a week attending to their children. By 2007, that had risen to 21.2 hours for college-educated women, and 15.9 hours for women with less education. A different analysis from Betsey Stevenson and Dan Sacks at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania found that college-educated men had upped their game too, spending 9.6 hours per week tending to their children, up from 4.5 hours before 1995.
The headline on Parker-Pope’s piece deemed the findings “surprising” and she quotes Ellen Galinsky of the Families and Work Institute as saying that parents feel like they don’t have enough time with their children, and that is “a function of people working so hard… I’ve never found a group of parents who believe they are spending enough time with their kids.”
I really like Galinsky’s work, but we must not talk very often, because after analyzing my time for the past two years, I feel like I am in that elusive group of parents. My kids and I spend a lot of time together. Not just time eating meals, getting dressed, taking baths and rushing in the stroller to get somewhere. Relaxed interactive time. Earlier this week I knocked off work at 4pm to take Jasper to the ice cream shop; yesterday evening we went and hung out at a local fountain and pointed out all the colors of the flowers. Weekends feature even more of this kind of thing. Sunday was actually a 3-park day by the time we were done.
One thing that makes all this time possible is that my kids go to bed pretty late. But having interviewed tons of parents for 168 Hours, I know that my schedule isn’t particularly unique, which is why I don’t find this new study surprising at all. While Galinsky may be right that people are working hard, we are not necessarily working long. The average American work week is now down to 33 hours, and according to the American Time Use Survey, the average parent who works full time is logging somewhere between 36-44 hours per week. Of course, the college-educated folks who define our cultural narrative of the time crunch are likely working slightly longer weeks. But other time diary analysis studies have found that people claiming to work 70, 80, 90 or more hours per week are, on average, working less than 60. With 168 hours per week, that still leaves plenty of time to hang out with your kids.
And these days, parents really do seem to want to do that. Moms in particular go to amazing lengths to protect time with their children when they work outside the home as well. Moms who work in offices that require evening face time get up early and turn mornings into mommy-and-me time. Moms who don’t have the face time requirement but have high volumes of work leave the office at 5, hang out with the kids until their bed-time, and then do another 2-3 hour shift afterward. They’ll put in a half-day on a weekend while their kids are at karate practice, or trade off with their spouses, so the kids don’t lose any parental time, but each parent gets to log a few weekend work hours. Perhaps the most culturally interesting part of this is that fathers are starting to behave this way too.
The net result is that the time parents spend interacting with their kids has not fallen as women have entered the workforce. Indeed, as the culture of marriage has become more child-centric, it has risen. There may be some downsides to this (Lenore Skenazy, Paula Spencer and others have made careers of lampooning over-parenting). But there are plenty of upsides too. I mean, I feel so lucky to live in a time when not only do I get to spend lots of time playing with my kids, I can also channel my ambitions into building a career as well.
Of course, time is a zero sum game, so as the time women spend working, and with their kids, has risen, something has had to go down. The social science is pretty clear on what this thing has been: housework. As I argue in 168 Hours, I think this is a good thing. It means parents are largely focusing on the things they do best. I’m glad to see that social science research is backing all of this up.
Living with Children: Child-rearing easier pre-1960s
In the 1960s, as part of an overall, culture-wide paradigm shift, a sea change took place concerning our collective understandings concerning the rearing of children. The two fundamental questions in that regard are and have always been: (1) What is the nature of a child? and (2) What constitute parent responsibilities toward a child? In the 1950s and before, those questions were answered in one way; since the 1960s, they have been answered in quite another way.
One parenting point of view was replaced with another. As I say in my latest book, “Grandma Was Right After All!,” the traditional point of view was represented by a set of parenting aphorisms that all but disappeared as the new, postmodern psychological view took over. For example, I am a member of the last generation of American children to be corrected when one of us acted too big for our britches. But then, our parents understood the common sense of not sanctioning high self esteem.
In the good old days (when according to reliable statistics the mental health of children was lots and lots better than it is today), children were to be seen and not heard. In more direct terms, when adults were talking, children were to listen. They were not to interrupt. This assisted in maintaining a healthy boundary between adults and children. That boundary caused them to “look up,” to aspire to become adults (because they were not treated as if they already were adults, only shorter).
In the good old days, children lay in the beds they made. One’s parents made clear, early on, that one was responsible for the choices he/she had made. Today’s parents lie in the beds their children make. They also complain that child rearing is stressful. Get it?
In the good old days, parents told children to stew in their own juices. The parent was not going to be swayed by a child’s emotional outbursts. Today’s parents feel their children’s pain. When they make decisions that cause children emotional pain, they actually think their children’s pain (expressed as crying, shouting, screaming, and so on) is indication their decisions should be revisited. Lots of today’s parents complain to me that their kids are manipulative. Duh!
Once upon a time, money did not grow on trees. It still doesn’t. Today, it magically appears when a parent swipes a plastic card at an ATM. I wish I had some ATM money for every time a parent has said to me that her child acts entitled.
Baby boomers ate what parents put on their plates because there were starving children in the world. I credit unfortunate children in Europe, Africa, and China for why I enjoy eating stuff some people can’t even pronounce — borscht, for example. I have lost count of the number of times I’ve seen parents bring a plastic container of the only food their child will eat to group meals. Proper parenting is hard, or so I’m told.
Nearly every child raised in the 1950s was told he was just a little fish in a big pond. That’s a good thing for anyone to keep in mind. Humility, after all, is weightless. It must be a terrible burden to think of oneself as a big fish.
The burden is all the worse if the big fish in question is 4 or 5 years old.
Read more from family psychologist John Rosemond at johnrosemond.com and parentguru.com.
Did 1950s mums really know best? We put vintage child-rearing methods to test
My daughter Marianne, 14 months, is dressed in baby skinny jeans, while I have a sleek, newfangled buggy and follow all the latest parenting trends.
But sometimes it can feel modern life is too fast-paced for this sleep-deprived, disorganised mum.
My boisterous daughter often runs riot as I battle with housework and I’m running out of ideas to feed her.
But I wonder whether I might learn something from new book A 1950s Mother, which reveals child-rearing methods from the 50s including teaching old-fashioned manners and cooking everything from scratch.
Did the parents of the past have it sussed? Author Sheila Hardy says: “The 50s heralded a turning point in the way children were brought up. During the war, many women raised families on their own.”
Thankfully, my husband Chris is a brilliant, hands-on dad – but it was a different story 60 years ago.
“Most men did little around the house,” explains Sheila. “The idea of lying with a newborn on his bare chest so his wife could get some sleep after the birth was unthinkable for the 1950s man.”
Hmm… so far, so sexist. I’m not holding out much hope for this experiment.
So will the 50s way win out or is modern parenting best?
Unlike today’s state-of-the-art compact buggies, prams of yesteryear were decidedly chunky. I decide to try out the Balmoral – a stunning vintage coach-style pram, manufactured in the UK by Silver Cross since 1877.
It’s still a bestseller, despite a price tag of £1,450. Celeb mum Lily Cooper has one for her daughters Ethel, 19 months, and Marnie, who is five months.
I feel ultra glam, proudly wheeling the classy Balmoral up the street while Marianne bounces around, testing out the sought-after pram’s handcrafted suspension.
There’s plenty of room for her to stretch out – ideal in the 1950s when parents were urged to give their offspring daily doses of fresh air.
Busy mums often left their babies outside in their prams, while they got on with housework indoors – something that’s unthinkable now.
There’s no doubt the Balmoral is gorgeous and a pleasure to steer once I’ve got the hang of it. But at 37kg, it weighs 28kg more than my compact, modern pushchair. I couldn’t manoeuvre myself on to the number 68 bus with this.
If I was a 50s mum, I wouldn’t have got much help pushing it around either because, as Sheila explains: “Many new fathers were reluctant to be seen pushing a pram.”
Although I probably wouldn’t be too keen on sharing it anyway as this pram is so beautiful…
Nappies: Fifties mums spent all day washing (Image: Ross Parry Agency)
Disposable nappies were yet to be invented in the 1950s.
Parents relied on terry towelling nappies, which needed thorough washing between uses. Considering Marianne goes through around six nappies a day, that’s a lot of washing.
“The new mother did the housework, home-cooked all meals and did the laundry as well as washing all of those nappies,” says Sheila.
Thankfully, reusable nappies have moved on.
They’re now made from soft cloth and the ones I try, by Baba+Boo, have colourful prints and poppers – not safety pins.
But the concept is the same. Once soiled, they must be washed and dried between wears.
Eek. I already struggle with our mountains of washing as it is!
Marianne seems comfy enough in the cloth nappies but they’re bulkier than disposables and hardly fit under her 21st-century leggings. No wonder 50s tots wore bloomers.
Disposable nappies are easy – pop them in a nappy sack and chuck them in the bin.
But, with reusable ones you have to wipe the mess into the toilet before storing the nappy in a sealed bin, then washing them in bulk.
Nappy wash day, which is twice a week, is a messy, smelly business. Now I understand why 50s mums were encouraged to potty-train at a ridiculously early age – some tried when their babies were a few days old!
As I load the soiled nappies into the washing machine, my kitchen pongs like the toilets at Glastonbury. Hanging 20-odd clean nappies out to dry is a pain, too. There’s none of this faff with Pampers.
There’s no denying the benefits. They’re kinder on the environment, as they don’t end up in landfill.
The soft cloth is great for Marianne’s skin – no chance of nappy rash with these.
Although each nappy costs £9.25, they can be used repeatedly, so they’re cheaper in the long run.
Despite the smelly drawbacks, I’ll carry on using them alongside disposables.
TRAINING A BABY
Stressed out: Louise finds the parenting tiring but rewarding
Like most inquisitive toddlers, Marianne loves grabbing things off bookshelves and breaking into the kitchen cupboards.
We’ve thoroughly babyproofed our home. But 50s experts urged parents to forget all that and train their babies instead.
“It was emphasised from the moment of birth that you had a potential monster who would rule you unless you they were trained,” explains Sheila.
The theory is simple – rather than shrieking, “Put that DOWN,” when Marianne lunges for the nearest breakable, I should calmly tell her not to touch it until she learns the correct way to behave.
Of course, there’s no way I’d put her in any danger. But I try out the method by leaving some ornaments on a low table. When she makes a beeline for them, I calmly say, “Those are Mother’s things.”
Of course, she ignores me and the ornaments are soon scattered across the table. But I keep at it and, after a few days, she seems to be responding to my calm instructions.
On day five, I catch her chewing her new shoes. Rather than grabbing them off her, I smile and say, “Take those out of your mouth, please.”
As if by magic, she puts them down. Perhaps the 50s approach does work after all.
But I don’t think I’ll chuck out the stair gates just yet.
Experts currently recommend babies are exclusively milk-fed for the first six months before being gradually introduced to solid foods.
In the 50s, parents were advised to wean their offspring at four months – on grim-sounding bone broth. It’s a far cry from today’s organic vegetable purees.
Tripe was also popular back then as it was high in iron and wasn’t rationed.
But times have changed and there’s no way I’m feeding cow’s stomach lining to my little one.
So I opt to make another 50s delicacy fish pudding, which is actually more of a fish crumble with a breadcrumb topping and creamy sauce.
Although Marianne has a healthy diet, with lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, I confess I’m a klutz who could probably burn a sandwich.
So I sometimes use pre-prepared baby meals.
I don’t have high hopes for fish pudding, which I found in a cookbook, but it’s easy to prepare and, amazingly, comes out of the oven looking mouthwatering. I can’t help feeling ever-so slightly proud of myself.
Marianne’s little eyes light up as I place some on her highchair tray. She polishes off a huge portion, followed by some good old 50s-style rice pudding.
Knitting: Mums made their own toys for their children (Image: Ross Parry Agency)
Forget Toys R Us and the Disney Store. In the 50s, toy factories were yet to return to pre-war production levels.
So parents would get out their knitting needles and make toys instead. Knitting a teddy sounds like a sweet idea.
The only problem? I’ve never knitted in my life.
Thankfully, my mum Jane is an expert knitter and tries to teach me.
We decide to knit a pink, stripy cat. I’ll be honest – my mum does the lion’s share but she lets me stuff it and sew the pieces together…
It’s love at first sight when we give Marianne her toy and she toddles around with Stripey clutched to her chest.
You simply don’t get this sort of satisfaction from plastic supermarket-bought toys.
The pleasure of making a home-cooked meal and making a special toy for my baby is priceless but I wouldn’t swap mod cons such as my 21st-century buggy and stair gates for anything.
Then there’s the small matter of Daddy’s role. I’m truly grateful to live in a time, post-feminism, when my other half is happy to do his fair share of nappy changes.
What with all this washing, baking and knitting, I’ve become even more exhausted than I was when I started this whole experiment…
Children in the 1950s had very different lives to young people today. Most left school much earlier, with many starting work at 14, and far fewer people had the chance to go on to further education.
The after-effects of the Second World War were still ongoing, for instance many goods were still being rationed in the early 1950s. Sugar was rationed until 1953 and meat only came off ration a year later.
Preparing for 1950s Family Tea
Ordinary families had little spare money for treats like cinema trips and holidays. Before most homes had televisions, people spent their spare time listening to the radio or reading the newspaper; they played board games rather than computer games; and in place of the selection of fast food outlets we have to choose from, they had a takeaway from the local fish and chip shop.
Tuning a Family Radio, Circa 1950
The 1950s family home was also very different from our own. Housework was much more difficult, as for example people did their washing by hand, instead of in a machine, and with refrigerators being a luxury item for most people, food had to be bought daily. It was less common for married women to work and many took on the childcare and housework, while their husbands went to work.
This film clip from the Yorkshire Film Archive shows the Watkins family having tea at home in Yorkshire in the early 1950s. It helps to give us an insight into how people lived in this period and what they did in their spare time.
Picking Flowers From a 1950s Garden
Activity: Analysing a Historical Film Clip
Students from St Bart’s Primary School in Armley, Leeds, watched the Yorkshire Film Archive clip ‘The Watkins Family’ and then imagined what it would be like to be a member of the family. They thought they would…
1950s Tea Spread
See: Women cooking the tea, with food like cake, jam and meat. The men wearing suits are coming home from work, and tuning in the radio. A girl is in the garden picking flowers.
Hear: The family having a conversation. The sound of the radio and the clock ticking.
Smell: Garden flowers and fresh bread baking.
Taste: Tea, cake and bread.
Touch: The kettle, teapot, radio, food and the dog
The children then used information they had collected from the video, plus other research about life in the 1950s to write a description of a child from the 1950s.
They were asked to think about:
- Are they a boy or girl?
- How old are they?
- What do they look like?
- What clothes do they wear?
- What do they enjoy doing?
- Who do they play with?