Earlier this week, Tara Parker-Pope's Well blog over at the New York Times highlighted findings from a recent study that American parents were spending far more time with their kids than a generation ago. College-educated parents in particular have really stepped up their game -- moms and dads -- which the headline deemed surprising (since more women are in the workforce now than in years past). I don't find it surprising (as I blog about over at My168Hours.com) but what's most interesting is a thesis that doesn't make it into the Well column. The husband and wife economist team, the Rameys, who ran these numbers, speculate that parents are investing more time in their kids because college admissions has gotten more competitive.
In a paper called The Rug Rat Race, they speculate that there are far more college-bound children now than in recent years, and that this surge in college-bound children is concurrent with the rise in investment of parental time. It's a crowded cohort, so you have to do something to make your child stand out.
I don't know about this explanation -- though they do some interesting calculations. On the whole, it seems like a negative gloss on a mostly positive thing: that parents value their time with their children, and so are more likely to engage in that during their non-working hours, instead of other hobbies or housework. Some of it may be sparked by increased competition. But it may just be a broader change in culture, too.