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Book relates mothers' time use to child development

Dec. 7, 2010

KALAMAZOO--A new book co-written by a Western Michigan University faculty member connects children's development with how mothers spend their time, giving policymakers valuable information for dealing with education, taxation, child care and other issues.

"The Time Use of Mothers in the United States at the Beginning of the 21st Century" was penned by Dr. Jean Kimmel, WMU professor of economics, and Dr. Rachel Connelly, economics chair and the Bion R. Cram Professor of Economics at Bowdoin College.

The 165-page book, which was released last month by the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research, is based on the authors' analysis of extensive time-diary data collected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in its American Time Use Survey.

That survey tracks the activities of tens of thousands of Americans beginning in 2003, offering a rich statistical portrait of how they spent a 24-hour period. From data in the survey, Kimmel and Connelly gleaned considerable information about time use among a representative sample of some 6,000 single, married and divorced mothers with children under age 13.

Gaining insight into how mothers choose to spend their time, whether it's at caregiving, leisure or paid or unpaid work, is hugely important from child development and policy perspectives. Many of the findings by Kimmel and Connelly point out facts and nuances that paint a more accurate and complete picture of American life, while other findings confirm well-known statistical trends.

For instance, the operative stereotype of 21st-century working mothers is that they are time-crunched, multi-tasking women who squeeze in child care between their jobs, cooking, vacuuming, shopping and chauffeuring.

In reality, the authors found that the time use of mothers varies widely and breaks down along income lines.

  • Mothers who devote the most time to caregiving are high-wage married women. Although they work longer hours outside the home than lower-income mothers, they compensate by devoting more of their leisure, home production and sleep time to caregiving.
  • Single mothers spend less time on child care than do married mothers. These mothers are more likely to earn low incomes, have older children and work in the evenings. As a result, their children are disadvantaged three ways: economically and by having less time with their mothers, particularly in the evenings when they usually do their homework.
  • Women with younger children spend more time on self-reported caregiving activities on weekdays than they do on weekends.

Coming as no surprise were findings that confirmed:

  • More mothers are entering the work force. Indeed, 60 percent of U.S. women with younger children are employed.
  • Married women spend more time doing unpaid work in the home than their husbands. Those women spent an average of 26 percent of their time on a given weekday doing housework and childcare compared to only 10 percent for married men with children under age 13.
  • Men spend more time in the labor market than women and have about the same amount of leisure time during the week, with one hour more than women on weekends.

Kimmel and Connelly note that in addition to public policy implications, many of their findings also have labor-market implications.

How working mothers with young children spend their time is a case in point. Sixty percent of these mothers engage in paid work, but as a group, they report spending more time on caregiving activities on weekdays rather than weekends.

A WMU faculty member since 2001, Kimmel teaches a variety of courses and actively conducts research. Her background includes eight years at the Upjohn Institute, where she worked from 1989 to 1997 as an economist, and a three-year research fellowship with the Institute for the Study of Labor in Germany from 2005 to 2008.

Kimmel's areas of interest are labor economics, female employment, childcare, time use, the motherhood wage gap, moonlighting, wage determination and computer accessibility. She is involved in four ongoing research projects.

The projects individually focus on parental time choices; the motherhood wage gap; the gender and racial divide in computer access, as well as the factors contributing to computer time choices; and the relationship between fertility and labor supply.

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Media contact: Jeanne Baron, (269) 387-8400, jeanne.baron@wmich.edu

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