Skip to main content

The effect of macroeconomic conditions on parental time with children: evidence from the American time use survey


This paper investigates the effect of changes in macroeconomic conditions on time allocation to children among mothers and fathers in the US. The study relies on 2003–2013 American Time Use Survey (ATUS) data. Accounting for a variety of personal demographic characteristics, as well as state and year fixed effects, we find that an increase in state-level unemployment rates is associated with an increase in enriching child–father time in families with small children (ages 0–4). However, there is heterogeneity in results by race, education and marital status, with results being statistically significant for white, married and college-educated fathers. Additionally, we find some evidence that an increase in unemployment rates is also associated with an increase in primary childcare for fathers in families with small children, as well as some declines in total time that fathers spend with older children. In contrast to this result, we find that mothers’ total time with children, as well as primary childcare time, is invariant to macroeconomic fluctuations in the labor market, however, as the unemployment rate goes up we do observe small declines in enriching time that white mothers in families with small children devote to enriching activities.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.


  1. 1.

    See Stewart (2010) for more details on enriching activities.

  2. 2.

    We utilize primary childcare activities as defined by ATUS (including activities related to the caring of and looking after children, activities related to children’s education and activities related to children’s health). Some of the activities included in enriching time are also categorized by ATUS as primary childcare, hence the enriching time and primary childcare time are not mutually exclusive.

  3. 3.

    In the paper’s Appendix, we recalculate some of our results using Tobit, with results being very similar to OLS.

  4. 4.

    Each cell represents a point estimate on the unemployment rate from our empirical specification for the dependent variables specified on the lefthand side of the table.

  5. 5.

    Full set of results is available from authors.

  6. 6.

    We do not include these results, however, we can provide them upon request.


  1. Aguiar, M., & Hurst, E. (2007). Measuring trends in leisure: The allocation of time over five decades. Quarterly Journal of Economics, 122(3), 969–1006.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Aguiar, M., Hurst, E., & Karabarbounis, L. (2013). Time use during the great recession. American Economic Review, 103(5), 1664–1696.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Berik, G., & Kongar, E. (2013). Time allocation of married mothers and father in hard times. Feminist Economics, 19(3), 208–237.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Bernal, R., Pena, X., Fernandez, C. (2011). The differential effects of quantity versus the quality of maternal time investments on child development. Manuscript, Universidad de los Andes.

  5. Bianchi, S. (2000). Maternal employment and time with children: Dramatic change or surprising continuity? Demography, 37(4), 401–414.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Burda, M., & Hamermesh, D. (2010). Unemployment, market work and household production. Economics Letters, 107(2), 131–133.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Casper, L., & O’Connell, M. (1998). Work, income, the economy, and married fathers as child-care providers. Demography, 35(2), 243–250.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Dehejia, R., & Lleras-Muney, A. (2004). Booms, busts and babies’ health. The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 119(3), 1091–1130.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Edwards, R. (2011). American time use over the business cycle. Wor king paper prepared for the session 114, of the annual meeting of the Population Association of America. April 1, Washington D.C.

  10. Fiorini, M., & Keane, M. (2014). How the allocation of children’s time affects cognitive and non-cognitive development. Journal of Labor Economics, 32(4), 787–836.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Foster, G., & Kalenkoski, C. (2013). Tobit or OLS. An empirical evaluation under different diary window lengths. Applied Economics, 45(20), 2994–3010.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Fox, L., et al. (2013). Time for children: Trends in the employment patterns of parents, 1967-2009. Demography, 50(1), 25–49.

  13. Gimenez-Nadal, J. I., & Molina, J. A. (2014). Regional unemployment, gender, and time allocation of the unemployed. Review of Economics of the Household, 12(1), 105–127.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Gorsuch, M. (2016). Decomposing the increase in men’s time on childcare during the Great Recession. Review of Economics of the Household, 14(1), 53–82.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Guryan, J., Hurst, E., & Kearney, M. (2008). Parental education and parental time with children. Journal of Economic Perspectives, 22(3), 23–46.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Hellerstein, J., & Morrill, M. (2013). Booms, busts and divorce. The B.E. Journal of Economics Analysis, 11(1). doi:10.2202/1935-1682.2914

  17. Hsin, A., & Felfe, C. (2014). When does time matter? Maternal employment, children’s time with parents and child development. Demography, 51(5), 1867–1894.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Krueger, A. B., & Mueller, A. (2012). The lot of the unemployed: A time use perspective. Journal of the European Economic Association, 10(4), 765–794.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Lindo, J. (2015). Aggregation and the estimated effects of economic conditions on health. Journal of Health Economics, 40, 83–96.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Milkie, M., et al. (2015). Does the amount of time mothers spend with children or adolescents matter? Journal of Marriage & Family, 77(2), 355–372.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Morrill, M., & Pabilonia, S. (2015). What effects do macroeconomic conditions have on families’ time together? Review of Economics of the Household, 13(4), 791–814.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Parke, R. D. (1990). In search of fathers: A narrative of an empirical journey. In I. Sigel, G. Brody. Hillsdale (Ed.), Methods of family research 1, (153–188). NJ: Erlbaum.

    Google Scholar 

  23. Rajmil, L., et al. (2014). Impact of the 2008 economic and financial crisis on child health: A systematic review. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 11(6), 6528–6546.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Ruhm, C. (1997). Are recessions good for your health? The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 115(2), 617–650.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Sonchak, L. (2014). Essays on the effects of early investments on children’s outcomes. All Dissertations. 1384.

  26. Starr, M. (2014). Gender, added-worker effects, and the 2007–2009 recession: Looking within the household. Review of Economics of the Household, 12(2), 209–235.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Stewart, J. (2010). The timing of maternal work and time with children. Industrial and Labor Relations Review, 64(1), 181–200.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Stewart, J. (2013). Tobit or not tobit? Journal of Economics and Social Measurement, 38(3), 263–290.

    Google Scholar 

  29. Wulff Pabilonia, S. (2015). Teenagers’ risky health behaviors and time use during The Great Recession. Review of Economics of the Household, doi:10.1007/s11150-015-9297-6.

Download references

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Lyudmyla Sonchak.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interests.



Table 7

Table 7 Sample sizes (ATUS 2003–2013)


Table 8 Impact of the unemployment rate on time allocation of fathers (Tobit, minutes per day)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Bauer, P., Sonchak, L. The effect of macroeconomic conditions on parental time with children: evidence from the American time use survey. Rev Econ Household 15, 905–924 (2017).

Download citation


  • Time allocation
  • parental time-use
  • unemployment
  • childcare

JEL Classification

  • J22
  • D13
  • J13