An Examination of Parent-Child Shared Time

Article excerpt

Data from time diaries kept by parents in two-parent, two-child families in four states in 1977 and 1978 were used to examine time shared by parents and children, as well as parent solitary times, in a number of household activities. The analysis focuses on how the mother's employment time affects shared parent-child time and whether the time was sex-typed. In addition, a weak test for whether parent-child shared time stimulates children's human capital development was devised and the hypothesis confirmed. Mothers who spent more time in market work shared less traditionally defined child-care time, but only with the older child. In contrast, as a mother's time in market work increased, parent-child shared housework and shared leisure time increased. Household activities shared by the parent and the child were sex-typed. Mothers tended to share more time with daughters in meal preparation and family-care activities, and fathers tended to share more time with their sons in activities involving the home, yard, car, and pet maintenance and in shopping activities.

Using time-use data, our study examines the times parents share with their children in several activities, as well as the solitary time parents spend in the same activities. Besides documenting shared parent-child time, this article addresses three specific issues: (a) Whether parent-child shared time involves human capital development on the part of children. Human capital development includes all the processes that augment a child's cognitive, physical, and behavioral skills (Becker, 1991; Bryant, 1991). (b) Whether mothers who work outside the home share less time with children than mothers who are full-time homemakers. (c) Whether there is sex-typing in parent-child shared time (i.e., whether mothers share more time with daughters and fathers share more time with sons in certain activities).


Maternal Employment and Parental Child Care

Research on the relationship between maternal employment, parental child care, and children's outcomes generally has taken one of three approaches. First, some researchers used information about mothers' employment as a proxy for parent-child processes and then tested to see if mothers' employment affected their children's developmental and/or schooling outcomes. Some studies found both positive and negative employment effects (Parcel & Menaghan, 1994), some found selective negative employment effects (Baydar & Brooks-Gunn, 1991; Belsky & Eggebeen, 1991; Blau & Grossberg, 1990; Desai, Chase-Lansdale, & Michael, 1989), and others found no employment effects (Leibowitz, 1977; Murnane, Maynard, & Ohls, 1981). A second body of literature, reviewed in Crouter and McHale (1993), explored how maternal employment affected parent-child activities. These studies usually found that parent-child activities varied in dual-earner and single-earner households. For example, Crouter, Perry-Jenkins, Huston, and McHale (1987) concluded that fathers in dual-earner households were more involved in child care than fathers in single-earner households. While these studies have provided rich detail regarding parent-child interactions, they typically are based on small, convenience samples that have limited generalizability. Furthermore, their measures of parent-child activities are not usually based on diary methods of data collection, which are the most reliable and valid measures of time use (Andorka, 1987; Gershuny & Robinson, 1988; Robinson, 1985, 1988).

Several researchers have examined the relationship between mothers' employment and parental time spent in the direct care of children using time-diary data (Bryant & Zick, 1993; Dolan & Scannell, 1987; Gershuny & Robinson, 1988; Hill & Stafford, 1985; Sanik, 1981; Walker & Woods, 1976). These studies found that employed mothers spent less time in physical and nonphysical family care. The measures of child-related time used in these investigations were restrictive; they excluded any time that is shared with children in activities other than child care. …