Friday, 15 January 2021

Mom's Time

Dan Hamermesh always takes on the fun projects. 

A decade ago, he did a pile of work looking at returns to beauty

Now, he's looking at time-diary data. Here's the abstract from his latest at NBER

Using time-diary data from the U.S. and six wealthy European countries, I demonstrate that non-partnered mothers spend slightly less time performing childcare, but much less time in other household activities than partnered mothers. Unpartnered mothers’ total work time—paid work and household production—is slightly less than partnered women’s. In the U.S. but not elsewhere they watch more television and engage in fewer other leisure activities. These differences are independent of any differences in age, race/ethnicity, ages and numbers of children, and household incomes. Non-partnered mothers feel slightly more pressured for time and much less satisfied with their lives. Analyses using the NLSY79 show that mothers whose partners left the home in the past two years became more depressed than those whose marriages remained intact. Coupled with evidence that husbands spend substantial time in childcare and with their children, the results suggest that children of non-partnered mothers receive much less parental care—perhaps 40 percent less—than other children; and most of what they receive is from mothers who are less satisfied with their lives.

After adjustments for education, age, children's age and so on, married mothers spend about 40 minutes more per day in household production than do similar other mothers. But most of that time difference is in non-childcare activities; married mothers spend about 6% more time providing childcare. But their husbands spend a lot of time in childcare as well. Consequently:

Together with the slight amount of additional time in childcare by married women, this suggests that children of married mothers receive over 3 hours per day of care from their parents, compared to about 1-1/2 hours per day that children receive from their single mothers.

The biggest gaps are for children aged 3 to 12; 

Widows differ substantially from other groups of mothers without a spouse in the home:

One sub-group of non-married mothers uses time differently from the others—widows. They account for only four percent of non-married mothers ages 25-54 in the sample, but they show statistically significant differences in the time they spend on various activities compared to other non-married mothers. They exhibit much more home production time than others; indeed, they differ only minutely (five minutes less per day) in this dimension from married mothers. They make up for this extra time by working and sleeping less than the other non-married mothers. Overall, except in their leisure time widows behave more like women with a husband present than do divorcees, separated mothers or those whose spouse is absent.

And marital status has substantial effects on self-reported life satisfaction:

The estimates of the impact of marital status in regressions describing this indicator of life satisfaction are shown in the bottom panel of Table 7. For all four countries the same vectors of covariates that have been used throughout are included. If there is no spouse/partner in the household, the mother is significantly less satisfied with her life—by 16, 43, 23 and 16 percentage points in the U.S., France, U.K. and Italy respectively. There is a very large difference in this measure by partnership status in all four countries. (The effects of being non-partnered are even more significant statistically in ordered probits describing the entire range of responses to the questions about life satisfaction.22) While feeling only slightly more rushed for time than partnered mothers, non-partnered mothers are much less likely to be satisfied with their lives. This difference is essentially unrelated to how they allocate their time across different activities—the results hardly change if the mother’s time allocation is included in the estimating equations.

Note that while the Table 7 estimates adjust for the effects of education (among other covariates), income doesn't seem to be included.  

Hamermesh concludes:

The results suggest that children of non-partnered mothers not only receive less parental time than others. The attention that they do obtain is from mothers who feel more stressed for time and who are less satisfied with their lives, a concatenation of time and possible interest that may on average disadvantage their children even more. Overall, our findings imply the need for even more attention and concern to the difficulties facing children in single-parent households. With non-married mothers in the U.S. being disproportionately less-educated and more likely to be from minority groups than married mothers, this conclusion takes on special importance.

Hamermesh doesn't draw policy conclusions; I expect folks will form them based on their prior preferences. 

Some conservatives may take it as an argument for strengthening families, discouraging out-of-wedlock births, and encouraging marriage counselling over rapid divorce. 

Others might take it as argument for very substantial investments either at school or before school to try to make up for the hour-and-a-half difference in parental time per day. There will be a substantial cumulative difference by the time a child enters school. 

It may not be particularly controversial to suggest that the government's proposed Equity Index, which would replace school decile funding formulas, include marital status as one of the variables. I don't think it's currently in there.

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