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Mothers’ Work Schedules and Children’s Time with Parents

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Prior research shows that mothers’ nonstandard work schedules are associated with worse child developmental outcomes. A key hypothesized mechanism of this relationship is children’s time with parents. Yet, it is unclear how mothers’ work schedules matter for the quantity of time or types of activities in which children engage with their parents. Using unique children’s time-diary data on 808 children with employed mothers from a national survey of households, OLS regression models were used to estimate associations between mothers’ nonstandard schedules and children’s time with their mother—and in two-parent families, total time with either parent—considering both the total amount of time and time engaged in developmentally-supportive activities. We found that mothers’ nonstandard schedules were associated with children spending more time with their mother on weekdays and suggestive evidence that this led to children spending more total time with their mother during the week. However, these positive associations were driven by mothers working irregular schedules with evidence of negative associations for evening and night schedules. The associations between mothers’ work schedules and children’s time with parents also varied by child age and family structure, suggesting that children in two-parent families, and those with more social and economic resources overall, may fare better than their counterparts when their mother works a nonstandard schedule. Findings highlight the importance of examining subgroup differences when estimating the associations between mothers’ work schedules and child and family outcomes.

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The PSID data are publicly available via the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan at

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  1. It is important to note that our estimates of mothers’ work schedules are at the child level. The distribution of work schedules differs at the mother level: 19% of mothers worked any nonstandard schedule; 5% worked evenings or at night; 9% worked a rotating or split schedule; and 6% worked an irregular schedule.

  2. Some time use studies have used seemingly unrelated regression (SUR) models when analyzing time spent in different types of activities in order to account for interdependence in the outcomes since time spent in one activity necessarily reduces time spent in other activities (e.g., Gimenez-Nadal & Molina, 2013). We considered this approach but were unable to estimate SUR models in these data due to models not converging.

  3. In robustness tests, we also estimated our main models using jackknife standard errors instead of clustered standard errors. However, jackknife standard errors are not compatible with multiple imputation; therefore, we estimated these models in each imputed dataset and averaged the standard errors across all estimates. Results showed that jackknife SEs are consistently similar in size or smaller than those in our main models; results available from the authors upon request.


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The authors gratefully acknowledge research support from the Institute for Research on Poverty at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. The authors also thank Kess Ballentine, Dylan Bellisle, Marcy Carlson, Paula Fomby, Julia Henly, Heather Hill, Jaeseung Kim, and Dan Meyer for helpful comments on earlier versions of the manuscript. The content of this manuscript is solely the responsibility of the authors.


This study received funding via an Internal Grant from the Institute for Research on Poverty at the University of Wisconsin-Madison to the first author. The collection of data used in this study was partly supported by the National Institutes of Health under Grant Numbers R01 HD069609 and R01 AG040213, and the National Science Foundation under Award Numbers SES 1157698 and 1623684.

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All authors contributed to the study design and data analysis, as well as to the drafting of the manuscript and its revision. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Alejandra Ros Pilarz.

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All authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.

Ethical Approval

The PSID data used in this study were obtained from the Survey Research Center at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research, which operates under the ethical oversight of the University of Michigan Institutional Review Board. The PSID data used in this study are publicly available and deidentified, and therefore, this study was exempt from further IRB review.

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Not applicable because this study uses secondary data.

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Pilarz, A.R., Awkward-Rich, L. Mothers’ Work Schedules and Children’s Time with Parents. J Fam Econ Iss 45, 117–136 (2024).

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