FAMILY STRUCTURE DIFFERENCES IN MATERNAL TIME WITH CHILDREN: DISPARATE SOCIAL STRUCTURAL LOCATIONS OR DIFFERENT PROPENSITIES TOWARDS MOTHERING

Postgraduate

ABSTRACT

Utilizing the 2003 and 2004 American Time Use Survey (ATUS), this thesis examines the relationship between family structure and maternal time with children.  The large sample, composed of 4,309 married mothers and 1,821 single mothers with children less than 13 years of age, allows for a detail-rich description of single mothers’ time with their children that has not been possible before the ATUS.  This thesis analyzes differences in maternal time with children by marital status, living arrangements, and other characteristics within the single mother population and in comparison to married mothers.  Findings indicate that differences in maternal time with children largely disappear or that single mothers engage in more child care than married mothers after controls are introduced.  Thus, differences in maternal time with children appear to be mainly attributable to the disadvantaged social structural location of single mothers rather than different proclivities towards mothering between married and single mothers. 


Introduction

 

 Married-couple households have been long-considered the standard and most beneficial family structure in which to raise children.  With the rise in divorce and nonmarital childbearing over the past several decades, children are increasingly likely to reside in nontraditional households often headed by single mothers.  Single mothers must provide the necessary financial and time inputs for their children without the resources and presence of a spouse.  Researchers and policymakers have focused on the economic constraints that single mothers experience in rearing their children but relatively little attention has been given to the time constraints they may also face (Vickery 1977).

All else being equal, it is assumed that more maternal time with children is better than less maternal time with children.  This assumption is based on the premise that mothers want to invest in their children, which includes spending time together.  Secondly, it is based on the notion that time investments are beneficial for children.  Even though the optimal investment in children may be unknown and there may be diminishing returns at high levels of investment, at least some minimal time investment in children is almost certainly necessary for optimal child outcomes.  It is important therefore to determine the factors that facilitate and limit maternal time investments and to identify which mothers face more constraints than others.  

There are reasons to believe that single mothers may spend less time with their children than married mothers.  Single and married mothers differ in characteristics that are associated with maternal time investments in children.  For example, prior research suggests that more highly educated mothers spend more time with children (Bianchi,

Robinson, and Milkie 2006).  On average, single mothers are less educated and are more economically disadvantaged than married mothers.  However, these characteristics may vary greatly within the single mother population by detailed marital status and living arrangements.  For example, never-married mothers are more disadvantaged than divorced mothers.  Additionally, single mothers may cohabit with an unmarried partner, live alone, or live with other adults and their living arrangements may enhance or restrict their ability to spend time with their children.