Network on the Family and the Economy Home Page
---
Members Index Internet Resources Index Meetings & Conferences
contact info | more about the MacArthur Foundation Research Networks Information

Session III. Family Time: Quantities and Qualities

Time Use Conference Index

Chair:
Paula England, University of Arizona

Presenters:
John P. Robinson, University of Maryland
Reed W. Larson, University of Illinois

Discussant:
Suzanne Bianchi, University of Maryland

Paula England opened with a brief introduction and welcome. She wants to stay on time. She named the speakers and introduced her own affiliation, University of Arizona.

John P. Robinson: Remember Parkinson's law: Work expands to fill the time available.

A. Methodological, comparison of diary methods

Four conclusions from early (1965) data:

  1. Have good estimates of work time
  2. Housework had reached plateau
  3. TV viewing
  4. No sex

These conclusions all changed in the 1975 study!

Law from time budgets: Using an overhead figure, he showed that the longer people estimate in the diaries that they work, the greater the discrepancy (over-estimation) between the diary measure and the actual hours of work. There is the same pattern of over-reporting of hours in housework as estimated hours increase. However people seem to estimate TV viewing the most accurately.

B. Comparison of results from diary studies (See Table 2 in his paper, "Trends in Housework and Family Care")

  1. Core housework shows a continuing decline across time for women.
  2. Parental child care is fairly constant across time. The decline in the aggregate can be explained by the reduction in family size.
  3. Shopping is fairly constant but with a dip in 1975, perhaps due in part to the oil crisis.
  4. The increase in free-time is primarily for women not in the paid labor force.
  5. The declines in housework are larger for employed women than non-employed women.

The decline in housework time is not fully explained by demographic shifts (e.g., more women are in the labor force, working more hours). Looking at Table 3 in his paper, we see that total work time has declined between 1965 and 1985 by about 6 hours.

C. Quality

There is a need for anthropological information to supplement measures of quantity. Home production categories may not be sufficient, because people "need to be on call" and are often "looking for things," two activities that are hard to measure.

We need a qualitative component. The self-reported liking of housework has gone up over time, though it is still at the bottom of the list. This is in contrast to the decline in time input. We would expect that satisfaction went down since participation in the activity went down.

The results from process-benefits measures included in the surveys found that:

  1. Process-benefits from work activity went down as experienced work
  2. Process benefits from television viewing went up
  3. No gender differences found in diary reports of process-benefits from activities.

D. Measuring Outputs

The study tried to get at the question of inputs and outputs. Interviewer ratings included in the studies are subjective as to house cleanliness. There was no difference over time in the self-reported rating of one's home's cleanliness, but a subject would rate another's home as less clean over time. We would expect a decline in output rating with a decline in input time.

Reed W. Larson: How children and adolescents spend time across the world:

I. Time, emotion and human capital development in families, introductory remarks: Larson showed a Calvin and Hobbes comic strip to show how kids' leisure time equals TV time. Larson is a developmental psychologist who wants to talk about children and emotions. He will talk about emotions as an input variable and speak from a human capital perspective.

II. Human Capital is a function of time (T) , where T is hours of education. Human capital development (HD) is also a function (F) of T. HD= F(T) HD includes:

social skills
coping skills
language skills
cultural knowledge
self-regulation
meta-cognitive skills
........................

T includes time spent:

with parents
with siblings
in class
with same-sex peers
with mixed-sex peers
alone
at the job
.......................

Larson wants to talk about emotions (E) where E is average emotion experienced in each context.

HD= F(T,E)

III. What are emotions? Levenson said (1994, p.123), "Emotions are short-lived psycho-physiological phenomena that alter attention, shift certain behaviors upwards in response hierarchies, activate relevant associative networks in memory, and rapidly organize the responses of different biological systems including facial expressions, muscular tones, voice, autonomic nervous system activity, and endocrine activity to produce a bodily milieu that is optimal for effective response." Emotions tend to be neglected in psychology. Behaviorists and cognitive revolution folks have disregarded them. In the past 20-30 years, the topic of emotions has been flourishing. A framework for talking about emotions:

Emotions are biological programs that motivate actions;
Examples include sex, creativity in computers;
Different emotions have different effects;
Some emotions are short-lived, but he's interested in long-lived emotions.

IV. Effects of positive emotions on information processing include greater motivation, seeing the big picture, an open memory, heuristic thinking (more use of intuition and global generalizations), less tendency to discriminate strong from weak arguments, and underestimation of the likelihood of negative outcomes. The effects of negative emotions is opposite to the above list regarding positive emotions. In other words, effects include lesser motivation, focus on detail, working memory "filled-up, " and overestimate likelihood of negative outcomes. Emotions affect how people process information; this is key.

One of Larson's research findings is that people's emotions fluctuate throughout the day; emotions change with the context.

V. Methodology: A beeper signal causes respondents to note emotions and activities. He suggests this method is good for noting time budgets/time use. He showed an overhead of a weekly phoning/paging schedule where people are paged seven times a day, seven days a week. Fifth- and ninth-graders were asked how bored they were at each beeper signal. They found that boredom differs by activity, e.g., homework is quite boring, play is less boring. Critical patterns of when kids are bored give negative biological and cognitive outcomes of being bored. Being bored hinders learning. The longer you spend doing a boring activity, the greater your boredom intensity becomes. For example, Korean kids who spent more time doing schoolwork were more bored (in terms of intensity, not just the amount of time spent being bored) than American kids who do less homework.

VI. The average mood of families. Kids are in the middle; they are less bored than they are when they are at school. Thus, the family may be a better place for human capital development than schools. Outcomes of spending time with parents are affected by how parents are parenting and the emotional content of the interaction, i.e., if parents are angry, this will affect how kids learn. Anxiety and depression reduce ability to organize information.

Men and women report different emotional states at home. Men enjoy active recreation more than women, while women hate housework more than men. Women's enjoyment of child care was negative while men's was positive. This may be because men are allowed to leave parenting activities when they are not enjoyable, and because they put less time into parenting activities.

Thus, the human development of a child is a function of child's time and emotion, and parent's emotion.

HDchild = F(Tchild, Echild, Eparent)

VII. Further uses of data: Larson's data lends itself to other questions. For example, consider time-sequence effects in people's emotions. How does Dad's bad day at work affect his emotions, his wife's emotions, his children's emotions? How do emotions get passed across people and time? For example, if one is angry, they are biased toward perceiving negative intentions in others. As a parent, this can effect perception of their child's behavior as aversive.

All hours are not equal. Emotions alter the transformation of time into human capital. They alter the quality of time.

VIII. Implications of research: Should questions about emotions be added to the BLS surveys? Should we have a Gross Emotional Product (GEP)?

Discussant: Suzanne Bianchi:

She noted that she spends a lot of time at her paid work looking for things, as well.

What else can we use time-diary data for? It is not just for inputs and outputs.

Issues of social well-being and welfare: She is now finding that issues she is most interested in exploring entail going into households and observing and discussing behavior, not doing secondary data-set analyses that she is most comfortable and prepared to do; "a disciplinary mid-life crisis" perhaps.

We need to move into households and get qualitative information. How should we analyze? Using what unit of analysis? What are influential theoretical issues? We need to look at time inequality. A lot of analyses are arguing about what happens to the mean. We should be interested in the dispersion of time, a Gini coefficient, inequality in time use. For example, the top 20 percent of children are getting how much parental time vs. the bottom 20 percent? If we line up kids based on the dimension of parental time, is the dispersion changing over time?

We should ask, does it pass the Grandmother Test?

She suggests a collection of sampling time in units of analysis that gets beyond the individual, perhaps pooling within households. What are family members doing with their time and how does that affect other family members? What are the competing meanings of time that are coming from different members of the household? What is the value or meaning of shared time?

We must get beyond quantity. The meaning of time may differ for parents and children. We should consider a life-course perspective in which there may be times in your life when you feel you have too much (or too little) time. It would be beneficial to understand the process.

She is confused by competing findings. One, we have more time, but more stress. Two, quantity of parental time does not matter for child outcomes. There is a conflict between perception and meaning with time diaries. Therefore, we need a combination of data collection such as a broad representative sample accounting of time, in-depth weekly diaries, in-depth interviews and observations. We must include what people do with time and how they experience time.

Group Discussion and Comments

England: Congratulated presenters on efficient time use. There remained half an hour for discussion. She opened the floor.

Klas Rydenstam, Statistics Sweden: Directed to Robinson. He comments from his experience working with time-use surveys in Sweden. Behind all the summary tables are a lot of detailed, episodic data. Much of the enriched data exists behind numbers. We forget that we take so little of the data collected to put into equations. Time sequencing could be gotten from the time diaries. It could be that the data underestimates time. The diaries say there is a decrease in housework. However, housework is often done in a number of short episodes (say, 10 minutes), and the time in-between is often considered "free time." However, it is not really what we, including women, think of as leisure since it is constrained time.

Using the household as a unit of analysis, we should collect data from all members. If we include the presence of children and parents in the time use diaries as they do in Sweden, we can see the relation of children and parents, how parents spend their time, what children see parents doing, and what children are doing. There is a big difference between what children see their mothers doing and what they see their fathers doing.

Robinson: What you collect and how you interpret the data depends on the questions you are asking. They have tried to get subjective components of time use, but Rydenstam is lumping too many things together. Trends do exist, but the meaning could be enhanced.

Rydenstam: Look at women's housework with event-history analysis. The probability that a "woman's free time episode" is likely to be interrupted by household demands is 250% higher than a man's in Sweden, and that is important.

Robert A. Pollak, Washington University: Why are we not getting the types of observations we expect from parental time inputs? Why do the findings contradict grandma's notion of more time with kids is better? Because we cannot randomly assign children to parents, we do not know how parents are allocating time, and we cannot understand the quality of their time with children. Parents devote more time to "troubled" children. What is going on in the background? We are talking about how to analyze the data, not about data collection. How do we model non-experimental data?

Larson The biggest activity parents do with children is watching TV. Being at work and worrying about your family may be better quality time spent on the family than being there watching TV with the kids. We do not want to throw out time, but add emotion. A chronically angry or negative child or parent would be a negative multiplier.

Michael Horrigan, BLS: Some comments: It is important to hear from academic communities across disciplines. One thing he is hearing is that though the individual level of analysis is important, it may be more productive to get information from the whole family. BLS may have data for context. International data sources imply that non-resident and resident biological parents spend different quality and quantity of time with children, which creates a different impact on children. There is a primitive time-use component.

We may be able to get at effects of absent parents on children. It is not so much quantity of time, but the existence of time children spend with absent fathers. Absent fathers can have a big impact on children even when they spend little time with them.

V. Jeffrey Evans, National Institute for Child Health and Human Development: Input/output (I/O) component as relates to children; consider the compensation hypothesis. When parents discover a student is doing poorly at school, they compensate by spending more time with that child. When parents have a disabled child, the disabled child gets more time at the expense of other siblings. This has been characterized as an "equity tax" on the unaffected children. Different children can get different quantities and qualities of time from the same parent, and finding these differences in families is important. It would be great to have sibling pairs since children are not necessarily treated the same.

Sarah Fenstermaker, University of California at Santa Barbara: Three points: (1) The diary effort that she was engaged in was able to get at detailed information about household tasks such as feeling states, context, presence of others, ordering, likelihood of interruption of current task. (2) There is a dynamic relationship around relationships. It matters what comes before and after the tasks. It matters when you do something if it is sandwiched between other things, or if children are present, or there are interruptions, because then there is a loss of autonomy and control. (3) The contribution of husbands, though minuscule, made a difference for women because of when it happened and what it was. Husbands' presence with children is meaningful for mothers even if men do not do any housework because she can defer children to him and get her own tasks done. Work is important for understanding the division of labor.

Timothy Smeeding, Syracuse University: Question for Robinson: Looking at Robinson's 1985 data which has a 51% rate of mail-back surveys, Smeeding is worried that non-respondents may be missing because they are too busy to respond.

Robinson: Telephone survey results get a higher response rate (65%), and the data are similar to the mail-back survey. They found in the time diaries survey that dropouts were likely to spend more time in leisure (watching TV) and less time doing housework. It makes you recall the old saying, "If you want something done, give it to a busy person."

Thomas Juster, University of Michigan: Why would we expect to find better outputs from more parental inputs? We expect to see value added. We are not measuring this in a cross-section. We need to take account (i.e. control for context) of educational inputs, child's IQ, and to collect data longitudinally.

Clyde Tucker, BLS: We need to pay attention to an individual's family size since time per child diminishes as size of family grows. What are the effects of time per child?

Jeanne Brooks-Gunn, Columbia University: She is struck by Grandmother Test. She does not believe we have evidence to say whether parental time affects child outputs. It is an open question. She agrees with Juster that we need longitudinal data. We need to examine whether changes in time inputs have changes in outputs. We need a much more nuanced look. We could look at natural experiments by looking at cities that have full-time kindergartens vs. part-time kindergarten. Also we can look at the different number of hours in school which varies across the country.

Larson: We do know that parents do make a difference for children. Studies of children in hard situations (i.e. hostile environments) show that children do better when they have an involved adult.

Brooks-Gunn: I know parents are important, but I was talking about time.

Larson agrees.

Duncan Ironmonger, University of Melbourne: To get information about children, we need to get qualitative data; we need to get into households. To get information from children, he recommends that the lower limit of 15 years old, as in Australia, is too limiting. If we are interested in children, we need to collect data about what children are doing.

Robinson: He got approximately an 80% response rate in California where he looked at young children. He looked at how some parental variables affect how children spend time.

Ironmonger: It is the secondary time use where a lot of time spent with children happens. He wants to look at "joint production" in the household.

England: She requested data source from Robinson.

David Almeida, University of Arizona: How can we get at how time matters? We need longitudinal data, and at each data point, we need to get multiple days to see how time is allocated. We need to use an intra-individual approach. When parents spend lots of time with children, are parents angrier with those children? In other words, are you more warm and nurturing on days you spend more, or less time with your child? There are qualitative aspects of parent/child interaction. We much consider the temporal sequencing of time. If you have a fight with a child on one day, do you spend less time with that child the next day?

Endre Sik, Budapest University of Economic Sciences: Comment to Robinson. He is working with the Hungarian Household Survey Time Budgets (non-diary, recollection) and has longitudinal data for all household members over 15 years old. He is concerned about the claim that diaries are superior to recollection, and concerned about exaggeration of how work time is reported in recollection is related to stratification variables (i.e. social group: class, age, race, education, etc.).

Second question: What proportion of all respondents report in excess of 60 hours of work per week?

Robinson: The analysis holds across countries. The sample size does not matter. They are a small group, but that's not important, even when you control for sex, education, income, etc. The figure also holds for men and women, controlling for a number of demographics.

Andrew Harvey, Saint Mary's University: He wants to simplify data collection issues. The context in which diary recordings are made is important, and he is happy about emotional and additional diary data. But we need to get at the meanings of time. Someone should look at that. You can get at it with the technique used by Statistics Canada. Ask people a few simple questions about the most satisfying thing they did today, or the most unsatisfying part of their day, and who they were with, etc.

Jeffrey Koshel, National Academy of Sciences: He liked the panel because it pointed out the potential value of time studies. Simple categories need to be better defined, such as child care. If we do time-use studies too simply, it is cheaper, but the data may not be worth much. We need resources in order to get good information about children. We have to set priorities, which may be difficult. Is there a relationship between different types of child caring and child outcomes?

Jacqueline Eccles, University of Michigan: Information on non-shared effects of time use within families is emerging. Studies show that differential socio-economic status (SES) rates of educational outcomes are determined by summertime, not school-time experience. We need to get detailed time-use data of what parents are doing with their children during the summer. We should look at within-family effects, the allocation of time within families. We need to think about parents and families as managers of children's time. She wants to look at how parents spend time with children affects how children spend time outside of the household. Children do well when parents get them into well-structured non-home programs.

Aletha Huston, University of Texas at Austin: There is probably a non-linear relationship between parent time and child outcomes. We need to follow children and see what other contacts children have. Data from early child care shows that children in full-time child care have outcomes similar to those in full-time parental care. We need to look at inputs from adults in general not just parents. She wants to talk about developmental outcomes for children, and how one spends time with children impacts children differently, depending upon their development level. There has to be some minimum below which parents have no effect on children.

Session ended at scheduled time.

back to top