Today's parents have finally managed to trump their baby-boomer predecessors in one vital area -- they spend significantly more time with their kids, according to a new study.
A University of Michigan study to be published in the journal Demography reports that children in two-parent families between the ages of 3 and 12 spend about 25 percent more time with their mothers than kids 20 years ago -- 31 hours a week, compared with 25 hours a week in 1981.
And fathers are picking up some slack, too. The researchers say fathers spend about 23 hours a week with their kids, up from 19 hours a week in 1981.
Today's parents are squeezing more time in with their kids even though time demands and pressures on families have markedly increased in the past two decades. The number of dual-income families has risen sharply since 1981, as has the number of females in the labor force.
"Even though parents, and especially mothers, may be busier than ever, many seem to be managing to fit in more time with their children than an earlier generation of parents did," said John Sandberg, an author of the article and a sociologist at the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research.
"Contrary to popular belief, the increase in female labor force participation has not led to a decrease in the amount of time children spend with their parents," Sandberg said.
Sandberg and ISR senior research scientist Sandra Hofferth compared time diaries kept by 2,125 children in 1997 with similar diaries kept by 243 children for a 1980 ISR study. Both groups of children kept two diaries -- one for the weekdays and one for the weekends. The diaries tracked activities parents did with their children as well as times when parents and children were simply in the same room.
While the overall amount of time children spend with both their mothers and fathers has increased since 1981, the gap between the amount of time working mothers and non-working mothers spend with their children also has increased.
In 1981, a child of a working mother spent about 3.5 hours less per week with its mother than the child of a non-working mother. In 1997, working mothers spent about 5.5 hours less with their kids than their non-working counterparts.
Because the amount of time both working and non-working mothers spend with their children has increased over the past two decades, children of working mothers in 1997 spent about the same amount of time with their mothers as children of stay-at-home moms did in 1981.
Today's fathers appear to be helping out more when their wives work, the study also showed. Though whether a mother worked outside the home or not had no significant impact on the amount of time children spent with their fathers either in 1981 or 1997, in 1997, children of working mothers spent considerably more time with their fathers than children of working mothers did in 1981.
"This suggests that fathers may be taking more responsibility for child-care when mothers work," says Sandberg.
While the increase in child-parent time is a step in the right direction, other research suggests that it is still not enough.
American children between the ages of 3 months and 4 1/2 years spend, on average, 26 hours a week in daycare -- either in professional daycare centers or with a relative, nanny or other non-parent child care provider.
According to a government study released last month, children in daycare are considerably more likely to demonstrate aggressive behavior than those who are cared for by a parent.
Among children who spent more than 30 hours a week in daycare, 17 percent exhibited behavior problems between the ages 4 1/2 and 6. But among children who spent less than 10 hours a week in daycare, only 6 percent demonstrated the same problem behavior.
One negative from the Michigan study: The increased face time for kids in two-parent households did not extend to children of single-parent families. Children spend in single-mother families spend about 21 hours a week with their mother, a number that has remained unchanged since 1981.