Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Single, Cohabitating, and Married Mothers' Time with Children

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Single, Cohabitating, and Married Mothers' Time with Children

Article excerpt

Utilizing the 2003 and 2004 American Time Use Survey (ATUS), this study examines the relationship between family structure and maternal time with children among 4,309 married mothers and 1,821 single mothers with children less than 13 years of age. Single mothers spend less time with their children than married mothers, though the differences are not large. Marital status and living arrangement differences in time with children largely disappear or single mothers engage in more child care than married mothers after controls for socioeconomic status and other characteristics are introduced. Thus, less maternal time with children appears to be mainly attributable to the disadvantaged social structural location of single mothers rather than different proclivities toward mothering between married and single mothers.

Key Words: child care, family structure, living arrangements, parental investment/involvement, single-parent families, time use.

With the high rates of divorce and increase in nonmarital childbearing, children are increas- ingly likely to reside in households headed by sin- gle mothers. Researchers and policymakers have focused on the economic constraints that single mothers experience in rearing their children but some have argued that single mothers face severe time shortages as well (Vickery, 1977). Without a partner, it is difficult for single mothers to provide the time and attention that children receive in two-parent homes.

Married and single mothers' child-care time has increased over the past several decades, perhaps allaying fears about time shortages in single-mother households (Bianchi, Robinson, & Milkie, 2006; Sayer, Bianchi, & Robinson, 2004). Single mothers spend similar amounts of time engaged in primary child care as married mothers but they spend less total time with their children than married mothers (Bianchi et al.; Milkie, Mattingly, Nomaguchi, Bianchi, & Robinson, 2004; Sanik & Mauldin, 1986; Sandberg & Hofferth, 2001; Sayer, Bianchi et al., 2004). In addition, the total time that married mothers spend with their children increased whereas single mothers' total time with their children decreased between 1975 and 2000 (Bianchi et al.). This suggests a potential widening gap between married and single mothers' time investments in their children, even as direct time in child care increases for both groups of mothers.

The empirical base on which these comparisons rest, however, is limited because existing studies of mothers' time use relied on small samples of single mothers (e.g., Bianchi et al., 2006). As a result of sample size limitations, past research on time use has treated single mothers as one undifferentiated group. Yet we know that there is greater diversity in the pathways to single motherhood today than in the past. Some women rear children alone after separating or divorcing from their child(ren)'s father, but an increasing number of women become mothers before ever marrying their child(ren)'s father. These two groups are quite distinct in terms of financial resources and may also vary in their ability to allocate time to their children. As more and more single mothers live with the father of their children in a cohabiting arrangement, the distinction between one- and two-parent families is blurred. Additionally, even when a father is absent from the home, a single mother may live alone or with other adults such as her parents, and these other adults may alter a mother's time with her children. Greater attention to the diversity in living arrangements of single mothers is needed in order to accurately portray and interpret differences in mothers' time allocations to childrearing.

Utilizing 2003 and 2004 data from the new American Time Use Survey (ATUS), we examined variation in maternal time with children of single mothers by marital status and living arrangements and in comparison to married mothers. The large sample of 4,309 married mothers and 1,821 single mothers with children less than 13 years of age allows for a detail-rich description of single mothers' time with their children that has not been possible before the ATUS. …

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