Bryan Caplan  

What the "Women Hate Child Care" Study Actually Said

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Remember the famous study showing that women hate taking care of their kids? The standard soundbyte is that childcare is barely more enjoyable than housework. Here's Will Wilkinson* favorably quoting Arthur Brooks, who cites the original study in Science by Daniel Kahneman et al ("A Survey Method for Characterizing Daily Life Experience: The Day Reconstruction Method"):

Using these techniques, researchers have collected data on how people -- particularly women -- experience life with their children. And what emerges is that the enjoy almost everything more than they enjoy taking care of their kids.
I finally had a chance to read the original study, and at least in my view, Brooks' summary is very misleading. Out of 16 activities, childcare came in 12th for a sample of 909 employed women. That doesn't sound like "almost everything" to me, especially when you consider that "Working" (the most time-consuming activity on the list) came in 15th. One could with greater justice say that the study found that "Women prefer childcare to working outside the home."

The more important problem with the standard summary, though, is that activities number 8-13 are virtually tied! Here are the average positive affect ratings on a 0-6 scale for all sixteen activities:

Activity
Ave. Positive Affect
Intimate relations
5.10
Socializing
4.59
Relaxing
4.42
Pray/worship/meditate
4.35
Eating
4.34
Exercising
4.31
Watching TV
4.19
Shopping
3.95
Preparing food
3.93
On the phone
3.92
Napping
3.87
Taking care of my children
3.86
Computer/email/Internet
3.81
Housework
3.73
Working
3.62
Commuting
3.45

All child-cheerleading aside, I think the fair summary of these numbers is that, in terms of happiness, childcare is very close to the median. Or as normal people say, "It's about average."

Now note: The top seven activities (from sex to TV) are all basically "recreation." As far as non-recreational activities go, childcare is actually a little better than average! And this is for women with jobs, who have to take care of their kids after doing a full day's work. I'm not sure that the results would differ for stay-at-home moms, but it's a good guess.

* But see also Will's criticism of the Science study here.


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COMMENTS (10 to date)
Josh writes:

Nice to see that "intimate relations" is #1.

TGGP writes:

The relevance of that study to feminism is discussed here.

Tanton writes:

It also didn't define "Taking care of my children." How would "Playing with my children" or "Reading to my children" stacked up against the other recreational activities? "Taking care of my children" seems to have a negative connotation to me and thus the question is biased against it.

Matti writes:

Own children are recreation for women and men, too. Professional child care is not recreation.

Tim writes:

Is "intimate relations" just a euphemism for sex or does it also include a heartfelt conversation with a close friend?

Tim writes:

I like the idea of letting the TV and the Xbox raise the kids but my wife would scream bloody murder. She already thinks that my parental attitude is much too laissez-faire. She has an overactive worry circuit in the brain (she's also got OCD, something that developed sometime after pregnancy). The pregnancy and/or birth completely changed her personality.

This is one of the possible pitfalls.

Ted Craig writes:

If these women worked outside their homes, how high would they rate their satisfaction about what they do all day long? In other words, doesn't everybody bitch about their jobs? Even rock stars complain about their jobs and they have the most envied jobs in the world (even movie stars want to be rock stars).

mobile writes:

Am I reading the data correctly that every single activity in the survey rated a positive affect (anything above 3 on a 0-6 scale)? Even housework? Does every activity make women better off (on average)?

rvman writes:

mobile: Obviously, otherwise they wouldn't do it. Revealed preference, natch.

Seriously, recreation is a bit overspecified here. We could have the top 7, plus napping, email, and on the phone merged as 'recreation' (maybe even shopping and preparing the food, many people do these recreationally), taking care of children, housework, work, commute.

Neal writes:
Or as normal people say, "It's about average."

Hey up Bryan. In your book you say that Joe public thinks "average" equates to mean, not median, when arguing that people under-estimate income gains over the last few decades (p75). I always thought this was deeply unconvincing. To me, median is often closer to what we think of as "average" than the mean is. Nice to see you agree that normal people equate median with average!

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