Over at Facebook and here, a few people have asked me about the numbers in the previous post. Specifically, how it is possible that moms who are not in the workforce and have young kids spend so little time on childcare? Also, how is it possible that this number is only about 42 minutes more per day than moms who are employed? Here’s why:
* Moms who are in the workforce don’t spend that many hours working. The average comes out to less than 35 hours per week. Not 80.
* It’s impossible to interact with kids 24/7 because, past the baby stage, they have their own lives. Even kids aged 4-6 spend many hours a week in school. Babies and toddlers nap. Kids play independently and they watch TV, which leads to the next point…
* These numbers are for childcare as a “primary activity.” That means you are actively engaged in caring for the child. If the child is watching TV while mom is checking email, this is not counted. If he’s playing outside in the backyard while she’s cleaning the kitchen, it isn’t counted.
People can argue with this. This method doesn’t count benefits that may be gained by being under the same roof. But you could argue the other way too — that if a kid would just be watching TV, he might be better off in a high-quality daycare for a few hours, where he’d be learning in a structured environment and playing with other kids.
The ATUS simply reports primary numbers rather than choosing sides. However, there are also numbers for time spent with kids as a secondary activity. Women spend 6.72 hours per day providing secondary childcare for children under age 6. This 47-hour/week commitment is closer to what people think of as the time involved in caring for a child. Unfortunately, these figures aren’t broken down by employment status. I presume that women who not in the workforce would have higher numbers here. But even fathers, almost all of whom work full-time, spend 30 hours per week providing secondary childcare. What we can say is that parents spend a lot of time around their kids, but not much time interacting with them.
* We spend even less time, on average, reading, playing and doing educational activities with kids. People often ask me why these numbers are so low, even for SAHMs of young kids (less than 8 minutes a day of reading). But you could turn this statement around, too. Why do we expect this number to be higher? The reason is that the popular media portrayal of a SAHM is of a highly-educated woman who has opted out of a fast-track career to devote that same energy to her kids. This is an accurate characterization of some chunk of mothers, but not of all. Some women are not in the workforce because they can’t get jobs. Or they can’t get jobs that would pay for childcare.