Archive Catalog

How Parents Fare: Mothers’ and Fathers’ Subjective Well-Being in Time with Children

PI-provided abstract: The shift to more time-intensive and child-centered parenting in the U.S. is widely assumed to be positively linked to healthy child development, but implications for adult well-being are less clear. We assess multiple dimensions of parents’ subjective well-being in activities with children and explore how the gendered nature of time potentially contributes to differences in mothers’ and fathers’ parenting experiences. Relying on nationally representative time diary data linked to respondents’ feelings in activities from the 2010, 2012, and 2013 well-being module of the American Time Use Survey (N = 12,163 persons and 36,036 activities), we find that parents consistently report greater subjective well-being in activities with children than without. Mothers, however, report less happiness, more stress, and greater fatigue in time with children than fathers. These gaps are relatively small and can be accounted for by differences in the activities that mothers and fathers engage in with children, whether other adults are present, and the quality of their sleep and leisure. We go beyond prior work on parental happiness and life satisfaction to document how contemporary parenting is woven differently into the lives of mothers and fathers.

Key words: parenting, subjective well-being, gendered family roles, time use

* Direct correspondence to: Kelly Musick, 254 MVR, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853; phone 607-255-6067; email musick@cornell.edu. Earlier versions of this work were presented at the 2013 Annual Meeting of the Population Association of America, the Maryland Population Research Center, the 2015 Alpine Population Conference, the Centre for Economic Demography Seminar at Lund University, and the Swedish Institute for Social Research SWS Seminar at Stockholm University. We are thankful to the ASR editors and reviewers, as well as conference and seminar participants for many useful suggestions, in particular Francesco Billari, Rachel Dunifon, Karin Halldén, Bo Malmberg, Jeff Neilson, Liana Sayer, Kammi Schmeer, and Maria Stanfors. We gratefully acknowledge seed grants from the Cornell Population Center and Cornell’s Institute for Social Sciences and support from the Minnesota Population Center (5R24HD041023) and the American Time Use Survey Data Extract Builder project (5R01HD053654), funded through grants from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute for Child Health and Human Development (NICHD).