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Childcare Time Use

Breakdown of time spent on childcare in the ATUS

Posted: Oct 16th, 2022 - Modified: Oct 16th, 2022

We all know that taking care of kids takes a lot of work. But what kind of work?

Here, I look at data from the American Time Use Survey. The following graphs take the time spent on Primary Childcare,1 and break it down into several broad categories.

Data on Childcare Timeuse from ATUS

These averages look at survey responses collected 2005-2019 from respondents who have at least one of their own children below the age of 18 living in their household.

Breakdown of time spent by parents on childcare, according to the ATUS

Symbol Key

⚽ - Playing with kids, including sports and crafts.
💬 - Talking with kids as a primary activity.
📖 - Reading to kids.
🏫 - Education-related activities (homework, homeschool, PTA meetings).
🍼 - Physical care (a broad category including feeding, bathing, dressing, etc.)
⚕️ - Health-related activities.
👁️ - Supervising as a primary activity.
📝 - Planning, organizing, or attending events.
⏳ - Picking up, dropping off, or waiting for or with kids.
🚗 - Travel related to child-care.2

Mothers tend to spend more time on average caring for children than do fathers.

The largest differences are seen in physical care (bathing, dressing, feeding, etc.).

Mothers also spend a lot more time on secondary childcare (time spent watching children while doing something else as the primary activity).

On the other hand, fathers and mothers spend similar amounts of time playing with their children.

Breakdown By Number of Children

Childcare time of parents with one child:

Childcare time of parents with 2 children:

Childcare time of parents with 3 or more children:

Breakdown By Age of Children

Here I slice the graphs by restricting each graph to include parents whose children are all within some specific age range.

Childcare time of parents with kids aged 13 to 17

Childcare time of parents with kids aged 6 to 12

Childcare time of parents with kids aged 2 or younger

Childcare time of parents with newborn children

<!— Also, this website has some interesting visualizations of ATUS data. (The graphs on this page are unrelated. I just thought the link was relevant.) ->

  1. The BLS uses “Primary Childcare” to refer to time spent where caring for or helping a child is the primary activity. “Secondary Childcare” is time spent watching a child while doing something else, like cooking. 

  2. In ATUS, the purpose of travel is oddly defined. See this article for details. In brief, time spent on “Travel related to child-care” means any time spent travelling such that the next activity is child-care, unless the travel destination is home, in which case the travel time is associated with the previous activity. 

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