Eugene Fedorenko is Writing, Reading, and Traveling

High-pressure parenting

On how much time we spend with children and where it's coming from:

Instead of increasingly outsourcing child-rearing, parents are devoting more of the scarce time left outside working hours to their children. Over the last two decades, time spent by parents on child-rearing has jumped. In America in the 1980s, for example, young mothers spent about 12 hours per week actively engaged in child care while fathers spent about four hours per week. Those figures have since soared – and the rise in hours spent with children has been greatest among better-educated, higher-earning parents. Mothers without university degrees now spend about 16 hours per week on child care, while those with degrees spend nearly 22 hours per week. For fathers the figures are seven and ten, respectively. This pattern is repeated across the rich world. The trend toward spending more time with one’s offspring is especially strange given that better-educated, better-paid parents are not spending less time at work; on the contrary, they are spending more, both in absolute terms and relative to the working time of less-educated households. High-income parents are instead spending less time on other personal activities, including sleep.

On competition and academic success:

The intensity of the competition can be unhealthy for children. Kids are not machines, and need time to relax, to goof off, to have meaningless, exploratory fun with friends. An excessive focus on academic success might encourage the habit of score-keeping, making it harder for adult children to find rewarding uses for their skills or to enjoy success when they find it. Setting the stakes so high for people whose emotional capacities are still developing and maturing will set many up for depression and other mental-health problems when failure inevitably occurs.

On the value added by the universities:

University clearly pays. People with college degrees earn much more than those without them, and graduates from top universities generally earn much more than those from lower down the league tables. Yet that is what one would expect to happen whether or not the universities were providing any education at all; the schools which are able to select the best high-school students are bound to produce the most successful graduates. Efforts to pick apart the value added by the universities themselves find that there is some, but that elite schools are not, as a rule, the ones that do the best job improving students’ earning potential.

On books:

Children who grow up in house-holds with more books, and who hear more words spoken to them each day, do better in school than their peers and enjoy advantages that last throughout their lives.