are spending triple the amount of time with their children compared with a
generation ago as middle classes try to give their offspring a head start in
life, a study by an Oxford academic has found.
Men especially are spending far
more time with their children than their fathers did with them, spending ten
times the amount compared with 25 years ago. Meanwhile many working mothers, in
an attempt to make up for working longer hours, are caring for their children
The research, by a leading
sociologist at Oxford University, suggested that many parents are as keen as
possible to spend hands-on time with their children, going on cultural trips or
reading to them – whereas in previous generations many parents were more
relaxed about children entertaining themselves.
Dr Oriel Sullivan said:
“Parents have transferred a lot of their own leisure time to time spent
doing activities with the children. Whereas in the past parents might have
given their children to a child minder or another member of the family while
they went to a museum or restaurant, they now include children in this
She said part of the extra time
parents spent with their children was because of “the concern that children
receive enough cultural capital” from their parents. “The desire of
middle-class parents to see their child go to university has seen a greater
emphasis on spending educational time with their children – be it visiting a
museum or historical site, or reading to them.”
Dr Sullivan, who analysed tens of
thousands of nationally representative time diaries kept by parents from 1975
to 2000, found fathers spent between 32 and 36 minutes a day on their children
in 2000 compared with just three to eight minutes on average in 1975.
Mothers spent between eight and 21
minutes a day on average on child care in 1975 and this rose to between 51 and
86 minutes in 2000.
Dr Sullivan said: “The biggest
change has been in fathers with a college education and above.
“They appear to be taking a
greater interest in their children’s cultural education. This behaviour is
prevalent among men with a high level of educational attainment themselves.
“Also, more women are in full
time employment now than in 1975 when their work was more likely to be
restricted to part-time, so that is another important factor in men taking a
more hands-on role in child care.
“I also think parents as a
whole are putting more into child care because of concerns about them working.
“It means when they are with
their children they are more likely to be aware of their responsibility for
sharing ‘quality time’ together, such as reading to them or taking them
Institutions have responded to the
trend by targeting young children. Museums, which used to mostly discourage
children from visiting, unless they did so in silence, now frequently, put on
special events, or even sleepovers. The National Gallery, for instance,
organises “treasure hunts” allowing young children to spot certain
pictures or artists. Meanwhile, most restaurant chains offer children colouring
in kits as a matter of course.
Dr Sullivan, who is due to present
her findings to the British Sociological Association’s annual conference in
Glasgow today, also analysed the time according to the educational achievement
of the parents.
In 2000, women with an education
over GCSE or O level standard spent 86 minutes a day looking after their
children, while those with just O levels and GCSEs spent 60 minutes and those
without qualification spent 51 minutes.
Dr Sullivan added: “Educated
women are more likely to be aware of media concerns about working mothers and
put more effort into reading to their children as they grow up to maybe fill in
the gap left when they are not at home.”