Poster Paper: Gaps in Quality-Adjusted Time Spent Caring for Children

Thursday, November 7, 2013
West End Ballroom A (Washington Marriott)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Seth Gershenson and Katie Vinopal, American University
Parental involvement is thought to influence children’s cognitive and social development, academic performance, and educational attainment (e.g., Avvisati, Besbas, & Guyon, 2010; Guryan, Hurst, & Kearney, 2008; Phillips, 2011).  Numerous studies document differences by socioeconomic status (SES) in parental time spent interacting with children, which may contribute to observed SES gaps in school readiness, academic achievement, and educational attainment (e.g., Bianchi, 2000; Guryan et al., 2008; Kalil, Ryan, & Corey, 2012). However, the existing literature primarily focuses on the total time parents spend caring for children, despite the fact that the quality of time that parents spend with children may vary by SES as well.

The current study begins to fill this gap by using time-use data from the 2003-2011 waves of the American Time Use Survey (ATUS) to test for SES differences in the following types of parental involvement: joint time with both parents, private time when no siblings are present, and time spent in primary versus secondary childcare activities.  Children may benefit from time spent jointly with both parents from increased attention, parents’ reduced stress, and watching adults interact (Folbre, Yoon, Finnoff, & Fuligni, 2005).  The impact of private time is less clear, as older siblings may increase the quality of care, but a younger child increases competition for adult attention (Folbre et al., 2005).  Finally, existing research has generally focused on time parents spend caring for children as the primary activity, but several scholars have speculated on the potential importance of secondary time for children’s development or well-being (e.g., Guryan, Hurst, & Kearney, 2008; Zick & Bryant, 1996).  A potential source of SES-based disparities in both the quality and quantity of time spent interacting with parents is rigid work schedules associated with lower-paid jobs (e.g., Bianchi, 2000; Bianchi & Robinson, 1997).

Specifically, the current study addresses three research questions. First, are there SES gaps in children’s exposure to time spent simultaneously with both parents?  Second, are there SES gaps in children’s private time with parents?  Finally, are observed SES gaps in parental involvement sensitive to the inclusion of secondary childcare activities?

We answer these questions by analyzing the practical and statistical significance of SES indicators (i.e., household income and parents’ education) in linear and Tobit time-use regressions estimated using data from the ATUS.  The time-use regressions condition on several statistical controls, including race and ethnicity, a metropolitan-area indicator to capture potential time-use differences attributable to features of the built environment, state fixed effects, household composition, parents’ employment status, and the day of week, month, and year of the completed time diary.  Additionally, we consider Heckit-type selection corrections when investigating research question 1 to account for the behavior of single parents.  The ATUS is ideal for the current study because it is nationally representative and contains detailed data on who was present with the respondent for each activity.  Policy implications of SES-based gaps in quality-adjusted parental involvement might include the provision of targeted after-school programs, organized summer activities, and mentoring programs.