Towards intensive parenting? Changes in the composition and determinants of mothers' and fathers' time with children 1992–2006

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Abstract

Contemporary expectations of good parenting hold that focused, intensive parental attention is essential to children's development. Parental input is viewed as a key determinant in children's social, psychological and educational outcomes, with the early years particularly crucial. However, increased rates of maternal employment mean that more parents are juggling work and family commitments and have less non-work time available to devote to children. Yet studies find that parental childcare time has increased over recent decades. In this paper, we explore the detail of this trend using data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Time Use Survey (TUS), 1992 and 2006. To investigate whether discourses on intensive parenting are reflected in behaviour, we examine a greater range of parent–child activities than has been undertaken to date, looking at trends in active childcare time (disaggregated into talk-based, physical and accompanying care activities); time in childcare as a secondary activity; time spent in the company of children in leisure activities; and time spent in the company of children in total. We also investigate whether the influence of factors known to predict parental time with children (gender, education, employment status and the age of children) have changed over time. We contextualize our analyses within social and economic trends in Australia and find a compositional change in parental time, with more active childcare occurring within less overall time, which suggests more intensive, child-centred parenting. Fathers' parent–child time, particularly in physical care, increased more than mothers' (from a much lower base), and tertiary education no longer predicts significantly higher childcare time.

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