Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Family Flexibility and Children's Time Involvement with Parents

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Family Flexibility and Children's Time Involvement with Parents

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Inequalities in children's well-being across types of family structures have been of concern to academics and policy makers (e.g., Artis, 2007; Martin, 2006). One of the mechanisms linking family structure and inequalities in children's well-being-especially when children are young-is parent-child time allocation (e.g., Bianchi, Robinson, and Milkie, 2006; Kalenkoski, Ribar, and Stratton, 2005; Manning and Brown, 2006). The few existing studies on time use and children's outcomes demonstrate that a lower level of parental time investment is associated with increased socio-behavioral problems among children (Hofferth, 2006). Parental time investment levels also vary by family structure, both between single and two-parent families (e.g., Sayer, Bianchi, and Robinson, 2004) and between types oftwo-parent families (Hofferth and Anderson, 2003).

However, the few existing studies of parental time investment that compare family structures among two-parent families (e.g., Hofferth and Anderson, 2003) are limited in three ways. First, due to past emphases on single-parent families as a point of reference, diversity among two-parent households has been obscured. Theoretically distinct two-parent family types (e.g., Cherlin, 1978; Coleman, Ganong, and Fine, 2000; Marsiglio, 2004) have been combined into the same category (Hofferth and Anderson, 2003; Yeung, Sandberg, DavisKean, and Hofferth, 2001). For example, cohabiting parent families and first married families typically have not been distinguished from single parent families and remarried parent families, respectively (Hofferth and Anderson, 2003; Kalenkoski et al., 2005; Sayer et al., 2004). Second, even though findings indicate that only a minority of children in nontraditional family types did not fare as well academically as children living with first married biological parents (Coleman et al., 2000; Pong, 1997), no study has yet attempted to explain even partially variations in the levels of time investment within a nontraditional family type. And third, previous explanations for family structural differences in parental investment levels have focused heavily on the parents' disadvantageous socioeconomic and demographic structural positions (e.g., low levels of parental income and education). However, disapproving attitudes toward informal family arrangements have not received attention, and are also suggested to put some nontraditional families at a disadvantage relative to others. Such attitudes reflect aversion against informal arrangements or commitments that are perceived to be informal. These could include the involvement of stepparents who are not the legal parent (e.g., Coleman et al., 2000; Gamache, 1997; Jones, 2003).

The current study advances understanding of family structural differences in parental time investment among two-parent families, beyond those explained by the socio-demographic characteristics of the parents and children. We address these three limitations in previous studies through conceptual refinements and empirical tests. We explore why some children in nontraditional families do not fare as well as children in traditional families, even when, as noted in previous studies, the majority of children in nontraditional families fare just as well as their counterparts in traditional families (e.g., Brown, 2004). We develop and assess a refined hypothesis to provide evidence on explaining the gap in average parental time investment that is known to exist across children raised in these family types (e.g, Hofferth and Anderson, 2003).

To address the first and second limitations noted above, the paper examines a refined set of more specific family types: (a) the variation in parent's time involvement with children between the married biological parent versus nontraditional family types; and (b) the variation in time involvement within a nontraditional family type, including variations about attitudes toward nontraditional families. …

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