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Parental disability and teenagers’ time allocation


Using the 2003–2019 American Time Use Survey, we examine how living with a parent who has a work-limiting disability is related to teenagers’ time allocation. Girls living with a disabled parent spend less time on educational activities, including both class time and homework, less time on shopping, and more time on pet care and leisure. Boys living with a disabled parent spend less time sleeping on schooldays. In addition, when examining the time spent by girls and boys in two-parent households, we find that the gender of the disabled parent matters. Girls living with a disabled mother in a two-parent household spend less time on educational activities and shopping and more time on pet care. Girls living with a disabled father in a two-parent household spend less time on shopping and food preparation and cleanup. Boys living with a disabled mother in a two-parent household spend less time on housework and caring for household children. However, if their father is disabled, boys spend more time on food preparation and cleanup. Boys living with a disabled father also spend less time with their mother. Thus, there are differences in teens’ time use that depend on both the gender of the teen and of the disabled parent, with teen girls likely being worse off than teen boys given the reduction in educational time. Our results suggest that differences in teenagers’ time investments are a plausible mechanism for gender differences in intergenerational economic mobility by parental-disability status.

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Fig. 1

Data availability

This paper uses data from the Current Population Survey available from the Census Bureau at and the American Time Use Survey available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics at

Code availability

STATA code to replicate all analyses is available at


  1. Authors’ own calculations based on the CPS (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and U.S. Census Bureau, 20032019).

  2. Most teenagers aged 15–17 live with their parents, as children in this age range are legally considered minor children in the U.S., and thus the responsibility of their parents. However, 3.7% of teenagers in the ATUS live with another person, and we do not know why and whether it is related to parental disability status, which we only know for household members. For example, a parent with a severe disability may be unable to care for their children, so other relatives may care for and live with those children. However, given the small number, endogenous selection on cohabitation is less of a concern, where we might be concerned if we examined young adult children who can choose where they live and whether they want to help their parents with household chores.

  3. STATA code to replicate the analyses in this paper are available at: (Kalenkoski & Pabilonia, 2021).

  4. To verify that the information is not outdated at the time of the ATUS interview, we looked at a sample of mothers and fathers with teenagers aged 15–17 to check whether any who had reported that they were disabled in the final CPS month later reported that they were employed and at work at the time of their ATUS interview, because respondents are asked to update their labor force status. Only 8 of 231 (3%) reported working at the time of the ATUS interview. In addition, we were able to match about half of our ATUS sample to CPS month-in-sample 4 and find that, of those reporting a disability in CPS month-in-sample 8, 77% also reported a disability in CPS month-in-sample 4. This means most had a work-related disability for at least 14 months prior to their ATUS interview.

  5. In the U.S., working-age individuals may qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) if they have earned enough Social Security work credits within a certain time and meet the following criteria: (1) You are unable to do substantial gainful activity (work), (2) Your disability is expected to last for at least 1 year or result in death, and (3) Your impairment is on Social Security’s list of disabling medical conditions. Once approved, there is a 5-month waiting period for benefits (, 2022). Private long-term disability insurance is also an option that must be paid for prior to experiencing a disability.

  6. Since June of 2008, the monthly CPS also has asked respondents whether they or other household members aged 15 and older have any type of disability, which could include any physical, mental, or emotional condition that impacts activities of daily living (ADLs), but the condition does not have to limit employment. Approximately 6.4% of teenagers in our sample lived with a parent reporting any type of disability. For all teenagers who report a parental disability (either any type or a work-limiting disability), the two measures overlap for only 37% and measure different types and degrees of disability.

  7. This percentage is in line with our findings based on the larger CPS sample (Fig. 1). Meyer & Mok (2019) find that by age 50, about 9% of male household heads in the U.S. have a chronic and severe disability.

  8. Before 2010, “with whom” information was also not asked during time when the respondent was working. For consistency, we exclude time “with whom” while working throughout.

  9. If teens do an activity regularly but they do not do the activity on the one random day that they are surveyed, then OLS would be appropriate. This is because the zero is not a true zero; that is, they are true participators in the activity, but we do not observe them doing it. However, some teenagers are not enrolled in school, are not working, do not have a pet, or do not regularly help around the house. These are true non-participation zeros and thus warrant the use of tobit models (Kalenkoski and Pabilonia, 2012).

  10. Teenagers’ health or disability status could also impact their time allocation. From June 2008 forward, we have information on teenagers’ ADLs (hearing, seeing, dressing, concentrating, walking, dressing, and going out); however, only 3.2% of teens report this type of disability. When we included a control for teen disability status in our models, our results were similar (estimates not shown here).

  11. As a robustness test, we also estimated linear models using OLS and zero-inflated Poisson models and find similar results, though the marginal effects from the zero-inflated Poisson models, which allow for different effects on the intensive and extensive margins, are not directly comparable because they are for those teens participating in the activity, while the marginal effects from the tobit models are for the observed outcomes (see Appendix Tables 12 and 13 for more details).

  12. We also estimated specifications without controls for household income. Results are similar, suggesting that income is not an important mediating factor. This is consistent with the conclusions of Kristiansen (2021) and Aaskoven et al. (2022).

  13. Using an alternative indicator of disability (a measure of disability that is activity limiting but not necessarily work limiting), we also find a negative relationship between girls’ school and schooling-related activities and parental disability (though not as strong) and a positive relationship between girls’ pet-care activities and parental disability (see Appendix Table 14). In addition, we find that girls spend more time with their parents when at least one parent is disabled.

  14. For example, Groen & Pabilonia (2019) find that teenagers who sleep less on weekdays score lower on reading tests.

  15. A labor-leisure model does not provide a clear prediction as to how household members’ labor supply will respond to severe health shocks experienced by the family breadwinner (Muller et al., 1979). Nils (2014) finds that disability has no effect on German parents’ labor market outcomes. Mussida & Sciulli (2019) find that women in Italy are less likely to be employed when living with a disabled partner, while women in France and the UK are more likely to be employed. Using long panels of administrative data on Danish families, Fadlon & Nielsen (2021) find that spouses do not substantially alter their labor supply on average when their partners experience a severe but non-fatal health shock (specifically, a heart attack or stroke), but there is heterogeneity in the response to the shock, and their paper suggests that families to some extent use spousal labor supply to self-insure. Using the Panel Study of Income Dynamics and the ATUS, Meyer & Mok (2019) do not find that wives statistically significantly reduce their labor supply following a spousal disability. Using the Survey of Income and Program Participation, Anand et al. (2022) find that the labor force participation of potential caregivers decreases after the onset of a spousal work-limiting disability.

  16. For example, Pabilonia & Song (2013) find that single mothers who smoke spend less time with their young children under the age of 13 in educational activities such as reading and homework.


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We thank Anna Hamersmith, Katie Jajtner, David Ribar, Jake Schild, and Richard Welsh for comments and Thomas Korankye and Jaman Mohit for research assistance. All views expressed in this paper are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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Correspondence to Sabrina Wulff Pabilonia.

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This study uses retrospective deidentified public-use data collected by U.S. Census Bureau. No ethical approval is required.

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Tables 1015

Table 10 Sample selection
Table 11 Activity codes used for time-use categories
Table 12 The relationship between parental work-limiting disability and teen’s time spent on activities in minutes per average day, by teen’s gender (OLS estimates)
Table 13 The relationship between parental work-limiting disability and teen’s time spent on activities in minutes per average day when teens are participating in the activity, by teen’s gender (Zero-inflated Poisson model estimates)
Table 14 The relationship between any parental disability and teen’s time spent on activities in minutes per average day, by teen’s gender
Table 15 The relationship between parental work-limiting disability and mother’s activities in coupled households with teen boys aged 15–17, by gender of disabled parent (N = 2540)

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Kalenkoski, C.M., Pabilonia, S.W. Parental disability and teenagers’ time allocation. Rev Econ Household (2022).

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JEL codes

  • I14
  • I24
  • J13
  • J14
  • J22


  • Disability
  • Gender
  • Time use
  • Teenagers
  • Schooling
  • Homework