Thu, Oct 19, 2006 - Page 9 News List

Family life changes, but children still the focus

A new book says much has changed in US families since 1965, especially the number of mothers working. But one surprise was was the amount of time parents spend teaching, playing with and caring for their children

By Robert Pear  /  NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , WASHINGTON

Despite the surge of women into the work force, mothers are spending at least as much time with their children as they did 40 years ago, and the amount of child care and housework performed by fathers has sharply increased, researchers say in a new study based on analysis of thousands of personal diaries.

"We might have expected mothers to curtail the time spent caring for their children, but they do not seem to have done so," said one of the researchers, Suzanne Bianchi, chairwoman of the department of sociology at the University of Maryland. "They certainly did curtail the time they spent on housework."

The researchers found that "women still do twice as much housework and child care as men" in two-parent families. But they said total hours of work by mothers and fathers were roughly equal, when they counted paid and unpaid work.

Using this measure, the researchers found "remarkable gender equality in total workloads," averaging nearly 65 hours a week.

The findings are set forth in a new book, Changing Rhythms of American Family Life, published by the Russell Sage Foundation and the American Sociological Association. The research builds on work that Bianchi did in 16 years as a demographer at the Census Bureau.

At first, the authors say, "it seems reasonable to expect that parental investment in child-rearing would have declined" since 1965, when 60 percent of all children lived in families with a breadwinner father and a stay-at-home mother. Only about 30 percent of children now live in such families.

With more mothers in paid jobs, many policymakers have assumed that parents must have less time to interact with their children. But the researchers say the conventional wisdom is not borne out by the data they collected from families asked to account for their time.

The researchers found -- to their surprise -- that married and single parents spent more time teaching, playing with and caring for their children than parents did 40 years ago.

For married mothers, the time spent on child care activities increased to an average of 12.9 hours a week in 2000, from 10.6 hours in 1965. For married fathers, the time spent on child care more than doubled, to 6.5 hours a week, from 2.6 hours. Single mothers reported spending 11.8 hours a week on child care, up from 7.5 hours in 1965.

"As the hours of paid work went up for mothers, their hours of housework declined," Bianchi said. "It was almost a one-for-one trade."

Meaghan Perlowski,a 32-year-old mother of three in Des Moines, said in an interview, "Spending time with my kids is my highest priority, but it's a juggling act."

Perlowski, who has a full-time job as a pharmaceutical sales representative, said she did grocery shopping and errands on her lunch hour and cut back on housework so she would have more time with her children.

"We don't worry much about keeping the house spotless," she said. "It's sometimes a mess, cluttered with school papers, backpacks and toys, but that's OK."

Fathers have picked up some of the slack. Married fathers are spending more time on housework: an average of 9.7 hours a week in 2000, up from 4.4 hours in 1965. That increase was more than offset by the decline in time devoted to housework by married mothers: 19.4 hours a week in 2000, down from 34.5 hours in 1965.

When Perlowski took a business trip on Thursday, her husband, Jim, took time from work to be home with their children, ages 1, 4 and 7.

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