Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

The Widening Education Gap in Developmental Child Care Activities in the United States, 1965-2013

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

The Widening Education Gap in Developmental Child Care Activities in the United States, 1965-2013

Article excerpt

Time is a strictly limited and valuable resource. The most productive input for children's cognitive skill development is time spent in educational activities with parents (Fiorini & Keane, 2014), and early skill development has lifelong consequences (Carneiro & Heckman, 2003; Heckman & Masterov, 2007). Differential investment in children's cognitive development is considered one of the major explanatory factors behind the increased academic achievement gap between children born to rich or poor families (Reardon, 2011; Willingham, 2012). Within the context of growing income inequality among families with children (Piketty & Saez, 2003; Western, Bloome, & Percheski, 2008) and a growing gap in financial investments in children (Kornrich & Furstenberg, 2013), the possibility of a parallel rise in inequality in parental time investment in developmentally salient care activities would indicate a crucial dual disadvantage for those born into less affluent households. Children in these households would be receiving fewer economic resources as well as less parental time input. In light of this, some natural questions emerge. First, has inequality in parental time investments in children in fact increased over time? Second, do trends in parents' financial and time investments coincide or have they been diverging?

The last few decades have witnessed an increase in average child care time among parents in the United States (Bianchi, Robinson, & Milkie, 2006; Gauthier, Smeeding, & Furstenberg, 2004; Gershuny, 2000; Sayer, Bianchi, & Robinson, 2004). Other research has shown differences in parents' time with children by education level (see Monna & Gauthier, 2008, for a review). High-educated parents also modify their parenting activities in accordance with the developmental needs of their children (Kalil, Ryan, & Corey, 2012). There is, however, no conclusive evidence on whether the differences documented in cross-sectional studies have been decreasing, persisting, or increasing over time. Previous research on child care trends has suggested the possibility that "the average increase might be masking greater heterogeneity among parents than in the past" (Sayer, Bianchi, & Robinson, 2004, p. 32), but this possibility has not been studied in sufficient detail. A comprehensive review of the literature by Monna and Gauthier (2008) highlighted the absence of research on the issue and called for more in-depth investigation of "concealed polarization of families in terms of time spent with children" (p. 647).

This study fills that gap in the literature by examining whether inequality between high- and low-educated parents' time investments in children has grown over time in the United States. The focus of the article is on the changing effect of educational attainment because education is consistently found to be one of the most important characteristics for explaining the amount of time parents allocate to their children as well as the type of activities they engage in (Altintas, in press; Craig, Powell, & Smyth, 2014; Guryan, Hurst, & Kearney, 2008; Kalil et al., 2012; Monna & Gauthier, 2008; Sayer, Gauthier, & Furstenberg, 2004; Yeung, Sandberg, Davis-Kean, & Hofferth, 2001).

This present study advances previous work by focusing on developmental child care activities provided for young children by both mothers and fathers using all the available time use surveys up until 2013. It shows that high-educated parents shifted their behavioral patterns more than low-educated parents to provide developmental child care for their children. The findings match the theoretical expectation that high-educated parents are more likely to focus their time on activities that improve their children's social and cognitive skills. As expected, a significant increase in maternal time in developmental care is observed starting from the 1990s, a period when the ideals of intensive mothering (Hays, 1996), involved fathering (Coltrane, 1996), and parenting for cognitive development (Schaub, 2010) spread widely. …

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