Despite all our worries about working too much and not spending enough time with our children, a recent study now reports that the opposite is true: Families are actually spending more time together.
"The Rug Rat Race," a report based on the research of husband-and-wife economists Garey Ramey and Valerie A. Ramey of the University of California, San Diego, shows that parents -- especially those who are college-educated -- are allocating more time to childcare compared to parents of the previous generation.
In their research, the Rameys conclude that moms and dads are choosing to do this because of their children's competition for college. "The number of college-bound students has surged in recent years, coincident with the rise in time spent on childcare," the Rameys wrote in their abstract. "The resulting 'cohort crowding' has led parents to compete more aggressively for college slots by spending increasing amounts of time on college preparation."
The increase in childcare time occurred for these parents not when their children were infants and toddlers; it happened when their kids got older. The researchers also found that these parents spent most of their time coordinating and transporting their children to various activities.
In their paper, the Rameys used previous research to show how parents of different education levels allow their children to spend their free time. Children of less-educated parents play with friends and relatives in the neighborhood, often unsupervised, they noted. They referred to this as "the natural development" approach. Then there's a "concerted cultivation approach" used by more-educated parents. The latter requires a lot of parental involvement. Quoting an ethnographic study called "Unequal Childhoods," the researchers described what happens when families take the concerted cultivation approach to raising children: "Children’s activities create substantial work for their parents. Parents fill out enrollment forms, write checks, call to arrange car pools, wash uniforms, drive children to events, and make refreshments…. Simply getting ready for an activity – collecting the equipment, organizing the children, loading the car – can be exhausting…, in addition to the labor of preparing, there is the labor of watching.
"In sum, it appears that college-educated parents with children age 5 or over spend a good deal of their time on education and children’s activities," the Rameys wrote.
I reflected on this study as I sat at my desk making plans for my son's involvement in T-ball, America's Kids Run and other upcoming events and activities. Which leads me to ask: How much time do you spend on your child's education and recreational activities? What are your thoughts on the "natural development" approach in comparison to the "concerted cultivation" approach to raising children? Is one really better than the other? Is there value in providing our kids more unsupervised free time?