Parents’ Time with Kids More Rewarding Than Paid Work — and More Exhausting

Pew Social Trends 8 October 2013
There’s no tougher job than being a parent, or so the saying goes. This sentiment seems to be confirmed by a new Pew Research Center analysis of government time use data. Parents find caring for their children to be much more exhausting than the work they do for pay. At the same time, parents find much more meaning in the time they spend with their children than in the time they spend at work.

American parents with children under age 18 find 62% of their child-care experiences “very meaningful,” compared with 36% of paid work-related activities. They also rate 12% of child-care activities “very tiring,” compared with 5% of paid work-related activities.

These findings are based on an analysis of the new Well-being Module from the American Time Use Survey (ATUS). Launched by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in 2003, the ATUS provides nationally representative estimates of how Americans spend their time. In addition to standard time use questions, the 2010 ATUS included new measures to gauge respondents’ emotional state during various activities. For example, did they feel happy, stressed or tired? How meaningful did they find various activities?

When it comes to feeling happy, time with children also beats time at work. Parents on average report that they are “very happy” in 35% of their child-care activities, compared with 19% of their paid work-related activities. In fact, the happiness level that parents experience during their time caring for children is only slightly lower than it is during their leisure time (41% rated as very happy).