Journal of Economic Perspectives: Vol. 22 No. 3 (Summer 2008)


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Parental Education and Parental Time with Children

Article Citation

Guryan, Jonathan, Erik Hurst, and Melissa Kearney. 2008. "Parental Education and Parental Time with Children." Journal of Economic Perspectives, 22(3): 23-46.

DOI: 10.1257/jep.22.3.23


This paper examines parental time allocated to the care of one's children. Using data from the recent American Time Use Surveys, we highlight some interesting cross-sectional patterns in time spent by American parents as they care for their children: we find that higher-educated parents spend more time with their children; for example, mothers with a college education or greater spend roughly 4.5 hours more per week in child care than mothers with a high school degree or less. This relationship is striking, given that higher-educated parents also spend more time working outside the home. This robust relationship holds across all subgroups examined, including both nonworking and working mothers and working fathers. It also holds across all four subcategories of child care: basic, educational, recreational, and travel related to child care. From an economic perspective, this positive education gradient in child care (and a similar positive gradient found for income) can be viewed as surprising, given that the opportunity cost of time is higher for higher-educated, high-wage adults. In sharp contrast, the amount of time allocated to home production and to leisure falls sharply as education and income rise. We conclude that child care is best modeled as being distinct from typical home production or leisure activities, and thinking about it differently suggests important questions for economists to explore. Finally, using data from a sample of 14 countries, we explore whether the same patterns holds across countries and within other countries.

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Guryan, Jonathan (U Chicago)
Hurst, Erik (U Chicago)
Kearney, Melissa (U MD)

JEL Classifications

D13: Household Production and Intrahousehold Allocation
I21: Analysis of Education
J12: Marriage; Marital Dissolution; Family Structure; Domestic Abuse
J13: Fertility; Family Planning; Child Care; Children; Youth


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