Mother’s Time with Children: Does Time Matter?

  • Amy Hsin


Despite the theoretical importance mother’s time with children plays in the literature on children’s intellectual development, few studies have identified a significant relationship between the time children spend with mothers and their cognitive outcomes. This study uses children’s time diaries from the Child Development Supplement of the Panel Study of Income Dynamics to investigate the effect of the quantity and intensity of maternal care during early childhood on children’s later cognitive test scores (N = 1,008). Results show that the time mothers spend with children is positively correlated with verbal scores for children with verbally skilled mothers and that the influence of early maternal care has a persistent effect on later test scores even after lagged tests are controlled. The intensity of care or the percentage of total care devoted to active engagement is positively associated with development of analytic skills for children with skilled mothers. The findings suggest that children of mothers with better verbal skills benefit the most from spending more time with mothers. The findings also suggest that children can acquire verbal skills through passive interaction with verbally skilled mothers as well as through active interactions. On the other hand, the development of analytical skills may require more intense and direct involvement. Taken together, the results point to time use as a means of social reproduction—time with children is a pathway though which highly skilled mothers impart their human capital to their children.


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