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May 2007, Vol. 130, No. 5
Comparing childcare measures in the ATUS and earlier time-diary studies
Mary Dorinda Allard, Suzanne Bianchi, Jay Stewart, and Vanessa R. Wight
One of the most important trends to alter family life in the latter half of the 20th century was the increase in women’s labor market opportunities and employment outside the home. This dramatic reallocation of women’s time raised questions about whether increased maternal time in the labor market deprives children of necessary time with their parents. For this reason, a number of studies have examined trends in parental time spent caring for children.1
There is a long tradition of measuring parental time in childcare in the United States using time-diary data.2 The U.S. Department of Agriculture funded small scale nonnationally representative time-diary studies in the 1920s, 1960s, and 1970s,3 and other institutions have collected nationally representative time-diary data at roughly 10-year intervals, beginning in 1965.4 Most recently, the American Time Use Survey (ATUS), which is sponsored by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, began collecting data on a continuous basis in 2003. These data provide a rich source of information about how Americans spend their time—including time spent caring for children.
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1 Liana C. Sayer, Suzanne M. Bianchi, and John P. Robinson, "Are Parents Investing Less in Children? Trends in Mothers’ and Fathers’ Time with Children," American Journal of Sociology, July 2004, pp. 1–43; and Suzanne M. Bianchi, "Maternal Employment and Time with Children: Dramatic Change or Surprising Continuity?" Demography, November 2000, pp. 139–54.
2 Time-diary data, which describe a person’s activities on a given day, are considered to be more accurate for activities such as household work and childcare than are data gathered using stylized questions, which ask respondents to report about time spent on an activity over time, such as for a week ( "About how much time do you spend taking care of children per week?"). See John P. Robinson, "The Validity and Reliability of Diaries versus Alternative Time Use Measures," in F. Thomas Juster and Frank P. Stafford, eds., Time, Goods, and Well-Being (Ann Arbor, University of Michigan Survey Research Center, Institute for Social Research, 1985).
3 W. K. Bryant, "A Comparison of the Household Work of Married Females: The Mid-1920s and the Late 1960s," Family and Consumer Sciences Research Journal, 1996, vol. 24, pp. 358–84.
4 The 1965 and 1975 time-diary studies were conducted by the Survey Research Center at the University of Michigan, and the 1985 and 1995 studies were conducted by the Survey Research Center at the University of Maryland. See Suzanne M. Bianchi, John P. Robinson, and Melissa A. Milkie, Changing Rhythms of American Family Life (New York, Russell Sage, 2006); and John P. Robinson and Geoffrey Godbey, Time for Life: The Surprising Ways Americans Spend Their Time (University Park, PA, Pennsylvania State University Press, 1999).
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American Time Use Survey (ATUS)
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