Here come mom and dad

Welcome back to the good old days of family life. Children in two-parent families now spend more time with their mothers and fathers than children did 20 years ago, concludes a study slated to appear in Demography. The time kids spend with their mothers in single-parent families has remained constant over the same period, say John F. Sandberg and Sandra L. Hofferth, both sociologists at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

Children ages 3 to 12 in two-parent families spent about 31 hours a week with their mothers in 1997, compared with 25 hours in 1981. The kids weekly time with fathers increased from 19 to 23 hours. Children in the same age range spent about 21 hours a week with single moms in both 1981 and 1997.

The amount of time fathers spend with their children rose most sharply in two-parent families with working mothers. Fathers often take up the child-care slack when mothers work outside the home, Sandberg suggests.

The data for the study came from nationally representative samples of families that researchers had contacted in 1981 and 1997. Information about how much time parents and their kids spent together came from activity diaries the family members filled out.

Bruce Bower has written about the behavioral sciences for Science News since 1984. He writes about psychology, anthropology, archaeology and mental health issues.