The dandelion project, and other time use studies

Given the passions that discussion of women, careers, and children seems to spark — here and elsewhere! — I’ve been thinking this topic could really use some more data. I’m starting to build up my database (for research) of time logs of women who earn $100,000 per year, and have kids at home. I’ll admit this is an imprecise definition of “having it all,” to be sure, but I’m curious if the trade-offs popular culture assumes are made are actually made or — to use the specific language from a blog post two weeks ago — if there is space for dandelions and paychecks.

Hence the name I’ve been calling this project in my own notes.

Anyway, this project will evolve over time and I’ll need pro help with specific research aspects of it. But if you know people who might like to participate — or if you’ve already logged your time for me, but would like to add the income data point to your file — please let me know. I’m happy to offer feedback on the time logs via phone or email if that would make the project worth the time for people, and since this is as much for data collection purposes as anything else, subjects can be completely anonymous (unless someone wants to be interviewed). Please email me at lvanderkam at yahoo dot com. 

On that note, I realize that we have some new readers around here over the last few months who may wonder why I started writing about time management. The back story is that I’m fascinated by the study of time and its use. I write about time management because such books are more commercially viable, and I do think we can all get better at how we use our time. But if anyone reading this is also interested in the academic topic of time use, here are a few more scholarly books/projects on time that offer good information on the topic:

Time for Life: The surprising ways Americans use their time, by John P. Robinson and Geoffrey Godbey (1997) Written in part as a response to Juliet Schor’s The Overworked American, Robinson and Godbey use decades of time diary data to pick apart the arguments that Americans spend more time working than ever before, and have no time for leisure. The studies in this book show pretty conclusively that how we think we spend our time often has little to do with how we actually spend our time.

Changing Rhythms of American Family Life, by Suzanne M. Bianchi, John P. Robinson, and Melissa A. Milkie (2006). I found a paper of Bianchi’s years ago that showed exactly why there was no evidence that the flood of mothers into the workforce hurt children. First, women, just like men, don’t work as many hours as we think. Second, women switched off housework for paid work, hour for hour, rather than switching off childcare for housework. Finally, women who are not in the workforce spend less time interacting with their children than we tend to assume — partly because children, from a young age, start to have their own lives and aren’t available to spend time with. In this book, she and her colleagues elaborate on more of this data, and likewise show that impressions of time use are faulty. In one memorable chart, these sociologists show that estimates of how much time people devote to chores are often off by a factor of 2 or more, for both men and women. You can guess in which direction. No one underestimates how much time she/he spends doing the dishes.

Life at Home in the 21st Century, by Jeanne E. Arnold et al (2012). This study of dual-income, middle-class LA families found that kids spend less than 40 minutes playing in their backyards per week, and adults spend less than 15 minutes enjoying leisure time in their yards per week. And this is in LA! Other interesting discoveries include that families that claim to eat dinner together all the time…often don’t.

The Executive Time Use Project. This project, run out of the London School of Economics and Political Science, looks at how CEOs in different countries spend their time.

And, of course, the American Time Use Project is a stunning data set put out by the BLS every year on how Americans spend their days. This usually comes out in late June, and among other things, shows that Americans sleep plenty. The average American logs well over 8 hours in a 24-hour period. Even parents of young kids get their 8 hours. I look forward to writing about this year’s data when it’s released!

14 thoughts on “The dandelion project, and other time use studies

  1. $100,000, really? That’s above “middle class” for a family, much less a single individual.

    I have a PhD. I have two kids. I certainly think I “have it all” but come nowhere close to that income-wise. I know you put in a caveat, but…

    1. @gwinne- of course, a very rough definition, and I hardly think that women who earn, say, $75k, don’t have it all. But all projects need their guidelines and I think this is one that gets used in a number of situations to put people in a high-income bucket. Then again, this is also widely dependent on geography. I’ve been hearing by email today from people in expensive regions of the country pointing out that $100k feels pretty middle class some places.

      1. Interesting. $100k is well above median even in expensive places like where I live (San Diego, median household income in last census=$63,847). My husband and I could not keep our current lifestyle on one $100k/year job- but we could do just fine by getting a cheaper house (we bought in an expensive area close to the coast), particularly once both kids are in school instead of day care. On the other hand, I can see where these people are coming from- even at our current double income level, we could easily look at the big additions others in the neighborhood are adding on, fancy cars they drive, etc. Sometimes it takes a conscious effort to look away from what my wealthier neighbors have and remember what I have that my less wealthy neighbors would like.
        I probably have timelogs you could use. I will send you an email once I get a chance to look at what I have and summarize it. I’m still planning to write a post about my logs!

        1. And people who make 500K/year say that they’re middle class too. Because after they pay for the house and the gardener and the cook and the nannies etc. etc. etc. they have very little left.
          Nah, I’ve lived in Boston on far less than 100K and done just fine. And I’ve lived in another more expensive city on 100K. Sure, it’s middle class, but it is a very nice middle-class life full of all sorts of wonderful amenities. The sort of upper middle class life I aspired to growing up. Anybody who thinks they don’t have it all in the US on 100K, even in SF or Manhattan, needs to re-examine their housing and vehicle decisions.

  2. Interesting. I was in the 6-figures before I cut down to 30 hours a week and took a 25% pay cut. (Totally worth it.) I think you also need to track spouse income/employment/hours — it’s easy to be a 6 figure career mom if dad is at home! (And I found it really hard to be one if we both were working a lot — our compromise was to both cut back.)

    1. ITA with this. We had to both cut back, too, to make it work, even with just one kid. Two just made it more complicated since they couldn’t have childcare at the same place.

    2. @Sara – I don’t know what percent will have partners at home with the kids. I did a post a few months ago about time use in single-income families, and breadwinner moms still do a ton of childcare and housework. Less than their partners, but much more than male breadwinners.

  3. I’ll be fascinated to see the careers of the women who earn over $100k. I expect to see lots of physicians, engineers, attorneys, nurse anesthetists, managers and pharmacists.

    I’m also curious about how you handle pensions. To me, a teacher or principal earning $80k with a significant pension and union job protection is far better off than engineers who pay for family health insurance and are subject to layoffs but might barely earn $100k.

    1. @TG – I’ve been looking at principal salary stats for another project; the average seems to be around 90k (varying widely by region, higher in the northeast), so a number of principals would be in the 6-figure bucket. As for what professions, certainly women who are partners in professional firms, doctors, but some chunk of corporate executives, entrepreneurs, etc. Higher-tenure profs at research universities too.

    1. @Well Heeled Blog – I’d assume some chunk (of those with kids under age 6) have a partner at home, or other family caring for their kids, and probably a larger chunk have paid care of some variety of paid care. For those with kids in school, hard to say.

  4. Hi Laura,
    I have started to read your 168 hours book this week and I’m loving it! I can’t find the spreadsheets though, the links don’t seem to be working anymore, can you help with that?

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