As various factors come into play during this period, separation can indeed result in temporary gender differences in parent-child time. When parents divorce or separate, the family dynamics shift, and child-care responsibilities must frequently be rearranged.
According to new research from Trinity College Dublin and UNED Madrid, Spain, separation causes a significant but temporary increase in gender inequalities in parent-child time.
According to the international study, after parental separation, mother-child time doubles, two-parent time decreases threefold, and father-child time remains low. It was also discovered that parental divorce has a negative impact on children’s time use, particularly among boys, with an increase in time spent in unstructured activities and a moderate decline in educational activities. However, these effects, particularly the dramatic increase in mother-child time, are only temporary, with significant effects in the short run and a return to pre-separation levels after 2-4 years.
Our study simply highlights some of the risks that parents and children may face in everyday life after separation, and it will be of great interest to policymakers and the general public seeking to mitigate some of the negative outcomes of the separation process.Pablo Gracia
This finding supports set-point theory, which predicts that major life events have an immediate impact on an individual’s behavior but that the individual eventually returns to their pre-event baseline. This return to pre-separation levels of parent-child time could be attributed to a decrease in stress, a reorganization of time-use patterns, or the formation of new partnerships in the years following divorce or separation.
The impact of divorce and separation on the time use of parents and children has received little scientific attention. This study, which was recently published in the European Journal of Population, sheds new light on how parental separation affects parent-child time as well as children’s daily activities.
The study used unique time-diary data from six waves of the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children. It is the first time that the effects of parental separation on parental involvement and children’s time use has been examined with longitudinal data across multiple waves.
- Parental separation leads to strong increases in gender inequalities in childcare time. After separation, mother-child time doubles, two-parent time declines threefold, and father-child time remains low.
- Parental separation also leads to a decline in children’s time allocated to educational activities (e.g., studying, reading) and an increase in children’s time in unstructured activities (e.g., TV watching, video gaming, smartphone use).
- The effect of separation on children’s time use is twice as large for boys than for girls, with gender gaps in children’s unstructured time increasing over time.
- These effects of separation, particularly regarding mother-child time, is temporary, with strong effects in the short run, and a return to pre-separation levels after 2-4 years.
Pablo Gracia, Assistant Professor of Sociology, Trinity commented:
“We show that parental separation can lead to decreases in children’s engagement in developmental activities, particularly among boys. However, we demonstrate that separation can result in significant additional ‘time penalties’ for women, which contribute to existing gender inequalities in society.”
“In our research, we want to avoid simplistic debates about whether divorce is a good or bad thing. Separation can result in both positive and negative outcomes, depending on the circumstances. Our study simply highlights some of the risks that parents and children may face in everyday life after separation, and it will be of great interest to policymakers and the general public seeking to mitigate some of the negative outcomes of the separation process.”
Tomás Cano, Assistant Professor of Sociology, UNED, Madrid added:
“Our findings have significant policy ramifications. Separation not only results in a wage penalty for mothers, but also in a time penalty. Promoting gender equality in caring responsibilities following separation and divorce may improve mother’s career advancements, while separated fathers may work more on child care.”
“Equally, findings that boys’ educational activities, such as reading and studying, are disproportionately harmed by separation must be considered by educational policymakers.”