University of Maryland sociologist Suzanne Bianchi has compiled and analyzed family time-use diaries—detailed notes taken by mothers, fathers and, in some cases, kids ages 12 and over—on how they spend each hour of the day. She found that while between 1985 and 2003 the amount of time men spent on child care rose from 2.6 hours to 7 hours per week, women still put in twice as much time as men. NEWSWEEK's Anna Kuchment asked her why men are doing more at home—and why the lion's share of child-care responsibilities still fall to women. Excerpts:
NEWSWEEK: How has fathers' involvement with their kids changed in the last several years?
Suzanne Bianchi: Dads are spending more time in child care, and it's not just the fun playing-with-kids stuff, it's across the board. They do all the basic caregiver kinds of things: the feeding, the diaper-changing, taking them to the doctor. But it's still the case that mothers do far more child care than fathers.
Are men taking on a bigger role at home because mothers have entered the labor force in larger numbers?
Yes, but that's only part of the picture. We expected that the dads who were really involved were going to be the dads who had working spouses. In fact, dads are more involved over time whether their spouse is working outside the home or not. And that would suggest that it's not just about more women working, it's about the dads themselves and how they feel that they're supposed to parent.
And why is their sense of their responsibilities changing?
Dads had a clearer message in the 1960s about how they were supposed to behave: they were supposed to earn a living. Maybe now it's less clear that breadwinning is enough. We still expect dads to be good breadwinners, but it's not sufficient: you're also supposed to be caring and nurturing your children. I think men are also taking cues from their wives. Just because moms go to work doesn't mean they lose the feeling they should be involved moms. And dads are also picking up the message.
Your research actually shows that both men and women are spending more time with their kids now than in the 1960s. For women, the numbers have increased from 10 hours per week in 1965 to 14.1 hours per week in 2003. What explains that general shift?
The trend toward later marriage and later childbearing. We talk about the fact that it's become less stigmatized to not have children—it's viewed as more of a choice that people make. Increasingly, the people who choose to parent may also be choosing to time it later in their lives after they have done other things. They're having kids now because they want to spend time with them.
Also, there's been a general shift in the culture toward a more child-involved way of rearing kids. People are having fewer children but investing heavily in them. And then we also talk about things that may not be so sanguine: fear for their safety, fear for crime, fear for traffic. There are not as many people in the neighborhood watching out for them. You can't just send your children to the playground anymore, you have to accompany them.
You also found an interesting contradiction: that although parents are spending more time with their kids, dads especially feel more guilty than ever about not spending even more time with them.
Yes, there's a rampant feeling among parents that they don't spend enough time with their children. If anything, it's higher for dads than for moms. Dads work more hours outside the home, and that makes them also express that feeling, that they don't spend enough time with their children.
Why do moms still do more?
Usually, it's still the case that dads work more hours outside the home than the moms. If anyone drops out of the labor force, it's usually the moms. If anyone cuts back to part-time, it's more often moms. And dads who work full-time work: 45 to 50 hours per week to a mother's 35 or 40 hours.
And, just because you're more often employed outside the home, doesn't mean you lose all the "shoulds": I should still be all-giving, I should still be all-caring for my children; I should be as available as I can be. There are a variety of things that push women to be more concerned than men about providing more time to their children. Men are still more concerned about providing enough money.