, Volume 49, Issue 4, pp 1361–1383 | Cite as

Diverging Destinies: Maternal Education and the Developmental Gradient in Time With Children

  • Ariel Kalil
  • Rebecca Ryan
  • Michael Corey


Using data from the 2003–2007 American Time Use Surveys (ATUS), we compare mothers’ (N = 6,640) time spent in four parenting activities across maternal education and child age subgroups. We test the hypothesis that highly educated mothers not only spend more time in active child care than less-educated mothers but also alter the composition of that time to suit children’s developmental needs more than less-educated mothers. Results support this hypothesis: not only do highly educated mothers invest more time in basic care and play when youngest children are infants or toddlers than when children are older, but differences across education groups in basic care and play time are largest among mothers with infants or toddlers; by contrast, highly educated mothers invest more time in management activities when children are 6 to 13 years old than when children are younger, and differences across education groups in management are largest among mothers with school-aged children. These patterns indicate that the education gradient in mothers’ time with children is characterized by a “developmental gradient.”


Parental time use Parent education Child development 



The present study was supported in part by a grant to the second author from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) (#1F32HD54044), and by grants to the third author from the National Institute on Aging (NIA) (#5T32AG000243) and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) (5T32HS000084). We would like to thank Joseph Price, Sandra Hofferth, Robert Michael, and numerous attendees of the 2009 American Time Use Research Conference for helpful feedback on an earlier version of this article. We are also indebted to three anonymous reviewers for their invaluable suggestions. While we appreciate these sources of support and assistance, we remain responsible for the contents of and conclusions in this article.


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Copyright information

© Population Association of America 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Harris School of Public Policy StudiesUniversity of ChicagoChicagoUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyGeorgetown UniversityWashingtonUSA
  3. 3.Department of SociologyUniversity of ChicagoChicagoUSA

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