Academic journal article The Journal of Consumer Affairs

Trade-Offs between Purchased Services and Time in Single-Parent and Two-Parent Families

Academic journal article The Journal of Consumer Affairs

Trade-Offs between Purchased Services and Time in Single-Parent and Two-Parent Families

Article excerpt

This research examines the influence of marital status on the demand for services using a model in which the demand for market services and mothers' time spent in related household activities are jointly determined. Three specific areas of market services are investigated: meals prepared away from home, child care, and housekeeping. In multivariate systems analyses in which mothers' household work time and purchased services were simultaneously determined, families headed by single mothers were found to (a) purchase more meals prepared away from home and (b) be more likely to purchase child care and housekeeping services than their two-parent counterparts holding income and other factors constant.

The past 20 years has seen a dramatic rise in the percentage of single-parent households in the United States. In 1970, single parents represented 12.9 percent of all families with minor children present. By 1988, the percentage of single-parent households had increased to 27.3 percent, with the vast majority being single mothers (U.S. Bureau of the Census 1989). As their numbers have grown, so has the research aimed at understanding single parents' socioeconomic experiences.

These households are generally characterized by lower incomes (Lino 1989; U.S. Bureau of the Census 1989) and higher rates of poverty ("Single Parents" 1992) than their two-parent counterparts. Recent work has also begun to identify and describe differences in time allocation patterns across the two household types. This research has found single mothers spend more time in market work and less time in leisure and personal care activities (including sleep) than mothers in two-parent households (Douthitt, Zick, and McCullough 1990; Rowland, Nickols, and Dodder 1986; Sanik and Mauldin 1986).

Much less is known about how single-mother households allocate their limited financial resources. In particular, virtually nothing is known about single mothers' demand for services such as child care, housekeeping, and food prepared away from home. While limited financial resources may work to decrease their effective demand for services, time pressures induced by the absence of a spouse may act to increase their need relative to two-parent households. The research presented here provides preliminary insights regarding how marital status affects households' demand for three services in the context of a home production model in which the demand for market services and mothers' time spent in related household production are jointly determined.

LITERATURE REVIEW

The literature on household demand for services takes two emphases: descriptive and explanatory. The first emphasis typically makes use of data from the Consumer Expenditure Survey to describe expenditure patterns on such services as food away from home, child care, housekeeping, and clothing care (Courtless 1989; Dinkins and Edlow 1992; Lino 1989; Schwenk 1989). These studies reveal the importance of controlling for sociodemographic variables in analysis of services demand. In particular, simple comparisons of means indicate that service expenditures vary with income (Courtless 1989; Dinkins and Edlow 1992), age (Courtless 1989; Dinkins and Edlow 1992; Schwenk 1989), education (Courtless 1989; Dinkins and Edlow 1992), home ownership (Courtless 1989; Schwenk 1989), and wife's employment status (Courtless 1989). Lino's (1989) study is the only descriptive article that examines the service expenditure patterns of single-parent households. He found that service expenditures varied with these same sociodemographic characteristics even within single-parent families.

The second group of articles has an explanatory focus. The vast majority of these papers examine the relationship between women's employment status and household service expenditures in married-couple households. Generally, the impact of the wife's employment is examined using an economic model that presumes couples first decide whether or not the wife should work outside of the home and then make decisions regarding their demand for various household services. …

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