In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Time Use and Childcare

  • Introduction
  • Parents’ Engagement in Different Types of Childcare Activities
  • The Effect of Maternal Employment on Time with Children
  • Fathers’ Time with Children
  • Implications for Parents’ Leisure
  • Methods
  • Data Sources

Sociology Time Use and Childcare
Shira Offer
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 August 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 August 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756384-0152


Parents’ time with children is considered a key determinant in the healthy development of children and is often treated as an indicator of optimal parenting. Scholars and policymakers, however, frequently lament that in postindustrial societies, families do not spend enough time together. This concern over the lack of shared time reflects the prevalent feeling that getting together has become a major challenge for many families because both parents and children are extremely busy. Hence, and consistent with the ideology of “intensive parenting,” parents feel increasingly pressured to spend much time with their children and engage with them in activities aimed at promoting their development and well-being. These trends have led scholars in the social sciences to pay growing attention to the assessment of parental time. As reliable time-use data have become available in many countries, researchers are better able to estimate how much time parents devote to childcare and how the time they spend with their children is affected by the amount of time they allocate to other activities, mainly paid work. The growing empirical literature in this field shows that parental time with children increased in the late 20th century and highlights the persistence of differences in childcare involvement by gender. Although fathers have become more involved in childcare over time, mothers still spend a disproportionate amount of time on childcare activities, especially intensive-labor routine-care activities. Time-use data have also allowed researchers to test for variation and reveal inequalities in parental time in childcare by demographic, familial, and socioeconomic characteristics. Furthermore, recent harmonization efforts have allowed researchers to conduct comparative analyses to test for time-use differences across countries and examine the effect of employment patterns, family and social policies, and cultural attitudes to family-care provision on parental time in childcare. In many studies, childcare time is treated as part of unpaid domestic work, or what time-use researchers often call “committed time.” Other studies, however, make a distinction between childcare and other tasks related to home production and focus specifically on childcare time while examining different types of childcare activities.

General Overviews of Time-Use Patterns and Childcare Time

Several studies provide excellent reviews of the demographic, social, and economic trends that have affected families and parental time with children since the mid-1960s, mainly in Western countries, and their implications for gender inequality. Overall, these studies show that parents in the early 21st century are spending more, not less, time with children than did parents in the mid-20th century. Furthermore, they show that despite a general trend of gender convergence in time use, mainly resulting from mothers’ increased participation in the labor force and fathers’ growing involvement at home, the gender gap in time spent with children has persisted as mothers continue to devote considerably more time to childcare than fathers do.

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