Academic journal article Family Relations

The Impact of Parents' Marital Status on the Time Adolescents Spend in Productive Activities

Academic journal article Family Relations

The Impact of Parents' Marital Status on the Time Adolescents Spend in Productive Activities

Article excerpt

Time-diary data from single-mother and two-parent families are utilized to examine differences in how adolescents use productive time in three domains: housework, school work, and paid employment Multivariate analyses reveal suggestive evidence that living in a single parent family increases adolescent girls' employment time and decreases adolescent boys' school time relative to girls and boys living in two parent families. The adolescent's age and the mother's education and employment status appear to be more important influences on time allocation than is family structure.

The amount of debate regarding how family structure affects children's welfare has increased markedly as the number of children living in divorced and never-married families has risen. Much of the scholarly research in this area (reviewed in Demo & Acock, 1991) has focused on the negative effects of divorce on children's social, psychological, and academic outcomes. For example, in their recent longitudinal study, Haveman and Wolfe (1994) found an inverse relationship between the number of years a minor child lives in a single-parent household and the child's educational attainment.

Explanations for the observed associations between family structure and various childhood outcomes sometimes allude to differences in children's timeuse patterns as an intermediate factor. The conventional wisdom is that children in single-parent households have less parental supervision than their counterparts in two-parent households. Indeed, several studies (reviewed in McLanahan & Booth, 1991) have found that single parents are less involved in monitoring their children's social and school activities than their two-parent counterparts. Less parental supervision may lead these children to spend less time in school work. At the same time, children in single-parent families may feel greater pressure to do housework to help the parent better balance work and family responsibilities. These children also may want to do more paid work so that they can acquire the consumer goods that their more affluent peers in two-parent households have. Wallerstein and Blakeslee (1990) go so far as to suggest that a shift away from leisure activities for children whose parents have divorced, coupled with the psychological stress of the divorce, may mean the end of a care-free childhood for many of these children.

The theory of social capital developed by Coleman (1990) can be used to formalize this conventional wisdom and generate testable hypotheses about the impact that marital status has on adolescents' time use. Coleman argues that individuals provide resources to other individuals in various forms that include obligations, expectations, information, norms, sanctions, authority, and organizational structures. These social relationships that can be used by an individual to facilitate his/her self-interest are termed social capital.

Within the context of the family, social capital is hypothesized to influence adolescents' human capital acquisition and, consequently, the time they allocate to various productive activities. Specifically, when a mother and father are both present in the home, there is the opportunity for more parental supervision and communication with a teenager regarding expected time use (e.g., reinforcement of setting aside time to do homework) compared to singleparent households. If parents in two-parent families take advantage of these additional opportunities to bolster positive activities and discourage less fruitful uses of time, then adolescents' time allocation is likely to vary across these two family types. The limited research that has made use of the social capital framework (Asmussen & Larson, 1991; Haveman & Wolfe, 1994) has found that the absence of a parent alters the mix of children's time spent with family members and their early adulthood outcomes. Both of these findings are consistent with our hypotheses.

Although assessing the influence of family structure is the primary focus of the current analysis, other available indicators of the family's social capital will also be examined. …

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