AHTUS – child present not accurate?

I am trying to compute measures of all time spent “with” children for parents in the AHTUS – that is, any time during the day where a child under 18 was present – from all possible samples. I downloaded hierarchical data extracts and used the variable “child” (whether a child under 18 is present during activities) to identify activities where children were present. (I also manually coded activities where a child was not identified as present, but either secondary child care was performed or a child care activity was recorded). I limited my sample to only those with a child under 18 in the household (parents).

The total time for parents with children under age 18 is implausibly low for any year before the 1998 sample, and does not correspond with previous estimates. For example, parents report spending ~320 minutes per day with children in the 1998 sample, but only 65 minutes per day in the 1975 sample. In 1975, this estimate would mean parents only spent 7.6 hours per week with children. According to Bianchi et al. (2006), who use the same data, this should be anywhere from 21 hours/week (married fathers) to 47 hours/week (married mothers). Even without cross-checking this data, spending only around 8 hours a week with household children is not possible.

I have tried checking my own estimates (using the hierarchical data files, collapsed using Stata) against the IPUMS time use variable generator (selected all activities, if child under 18 is present, limited to households where a child under 18 years old lives). I get the same results, suggesting that it is not a coding error on my part.

I would very much appreciate any help on this issue, or who I can contact to discuss this! (I am hoping it is just some sort of misunderstanding on my part).

This sounds like it could be due to the known comparability challenges of the CHILD variable. Basically, this variable is created differently in some years. From 1965 through 1995 only a subset of activities were eligible to be coded as “with a child.” Beginning in 1998 is when the “with who” variables begin applying to any and all activities.