Since the mid-1990s, these women have dramatically increased the time they spend coordinating and driving their children to organized activities, trading in nine hours of their own leisure time every week to do so. All in the name of landing their progeny a seat at a top university.
The Rameys dub the phenomenon "the rug rat race" and describe it in a National Bureau of Economic Research working paper of the same name.
The study has an autobiographical inspiration. When the Rameys moved to San Diego's University City neighborhood, they found children's schedules were packed with sports, arts and other classes. Over time, the Rameys, especially Valerie, found themselves caught up in the competition.
"I was shocked to find moms with graduate degrees who had quit their jobs because they needed more time to drive their children to activities," Valerie Ramey said.
At first, they thought this was just a local fad. But after reviewing data from 12 U.S. surveys describing how people spend their time, from 1965 to 2007, they realized they were onto a national trend.
The researchers found that, after three decades of decline, the amount of time dedicated to childcare went up dramatically in the past 20 years, even while the number of children per household decreased. The rise began in the mid-1990s. It was twice as great for college-educated parents and was most pronounced among mothers.
On average, the amount of time college-educated women spent on childcare went up from 13 to 22 hours per week since the mid-1990s. By contrast, the amount went up from 11 to 16 hours for women without a college education. Meanwhile, childcare went up from four to 10 hours for college-educated fathers, and from four to eight hours for fathers without a college education.
Most of the increases came from time spent with older, school-age children – and especially from time spent on taking the kids from one activity to the next.
The researchers first analyzed the data to see if any of the conventional explanations could account for the shift. But it wasn't that their sample had changed over time. It wasn't due to an increase in income, or an increase in crime rates, which would cause parents to spend more time supervising their children. It wasn't that parents enjoyed spending more time on childcare. In fact, mothers said in surveys that childcare was less enjoyable than cooking and housework. It wasn't that parents enjoyed more flexibility in their work schedules, either.
The increase happened just as college admissions became more and more competitive. The number of high school graduates eligible to go to college has gone up dramatically in the past two decades, but college slots haven't, the Rameys noted. The increase also happened around the same time when college graduates started making a lot more money than everyone else. So the Rameys came to a novel conclusion: Parents were filling their children's schedules with activities in the hopes that it would get them into a good college and help them secure a lucrative job later on.
To test their hypothesis, the researchers compared childcare data for the United States and Canada, where many of the same social fads take hold but where college admissions are also a lot less competitive. The Rameys found that the amount of time parents spent on childcare in that country remained flat during the past two decades.
"Suddenly everything came together," Valerie Ramey said. "None of the pieces of evidence we have is bulletproof, but we have a lot of pieces that all point in the same direction."
"If investing in your kids like this also makes them better citizens or has other benefits for society, then this increase in time spent on childcare might be a good thing," Ramey said. "But it could also be that these private decisions are not socially optimal."
If further study suggests that this is indeed "wasteful overinvestment," the authors write, perhaps it could be mitigated by expanding the number of slots or by modifying college acceptance rules to place greater emphasis on criteria that cannot be directly influenced by parents.
Meanwhile, it's unclear how long parents will have to compete in the rug rat race. Demographics dictate that the number of high school graduates eligible for college will drop once children of the baby boomers graduate. Also, a number of groups and popular authors have begun a rebelling against overly structured parenting, Valerie Ramey said, citing the "free range children" movement and the book "The Idle Parent" by Tom Hodgkinson.
"I think we're already seeing a backlash," she said.
Inga Kiderra | EurekAlert!
The personality factor: How to foster the sharing of research data
06.09.2017 | ZBW – Leibniz-Informationszentrum Wirtschaft
Europe’s Demographic Future. Where the Regions Are Heading after a Decade of Crises
10.08.2017 | Berlin-Institut für Bevölkerung und Entwicklung
Plants and algae use the enzyme Rubisco to fix carbon dioxide, removing it from the atmosphere and converting it into biomass. Algae have figured out a way to increase the efficiency of carbon fixation. They gather most of their Rubisco into a ball-shaped microcompartment called the pyrenoid, which they flood with a high local concentration of carbon dioxide. A team of scientists at Princeton University, the Carnegie Institution for Science, Stanford University and the Max Plank Institute of Biochemistry have unravelled the mysteries of how the pyrenoid is assembled. These insights can help to engineer crops that remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere while producing more food.
A warming planet
Our brains house extremely complex neuronal circuits, whose detailed structures are still largely unknown. This is especially true for the so-called cerebral cortex of mammals, where among other things vision, thoughts or spatial orientation are being computed. Here the rules by which nerve cells are connected to each other are only partly understood. A team of scientists around Moritz Helmstaedter at the Frankfiurt Max Planck Institute for Brain Research and Helene Schmidt (Humboldt University in Berlin) have now discovered a surprisingly precise nerve cell connectivity pattern in the part of the cerebral cortex that is responsible for orienting the individual animal or human in space.
The researchers report online in Nature (Schmidt et al., 2017. Axonal synapse sorting in medial entorhinal cortex, DOI: 10.1038/nature24005) that synapses in...
Whispering gallery mode (WGM) resonators are used to make tiny micro-lasers, sensors, switches, routers and other devices. These tiny structures rely on a...
Using ultrafast flashes of laser and x-ray radiation, scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics (Garching, Germany) took snapshots of the briefest electron motion inside a solid material to date. The electron motion lasted only 750 billionths of the billionth of a second before it fainted, setting a new record of human capability to capture ultrafast processes inside solids!
When x-rays shine onto solid materials or large molecules, an electron is pushed away from its original place near the nucleus of the atom, leaving a hole...
For the first time, physicists have successfully imaged spiral magnetic ordering in a multiferroic material. These materials are considered highly promising candidates for future data storage media. The researchers were able to prove their findings using unique quantum sensors that were developed at Basel University and that can analyze electromagnetic fields on the nanometer scale. The results – obtained by scientists from the University of Basel’s Department of Physics, the Swiss Nanoscience Institute, the University of Montpellier and several laboratories from University Paris-Saclay – were recently published in the journal Nature.
Multiferroics are materials that simultaneously react to electric and magnetic fields. These two properties are rarely found together, and their combined...
19.09.2017 | Event News
12.09.2017 | Event News
06.09.2017 | Event News
22.09.2017 | Life Sciences
22.09.2017 | Medical Engineering
22.09.2017 | Physics and Astronomy