Skip to main content
Return to Brookings Papers on Economic Activity
BPEA Article

The Rug Rat Race



After three decades of decline, the amount of time spent by
parents on childcare in the United States began to rise dramatically in the mid-
1990s. This increase was particularly pronounced among college-educated
parents. Less educated mothers increased their childcare time by over 4 hours
per week, and college-educated mothers increased theirs by over 9 hours per
week. Fathers showed the same patterns, but with smaller magnitudes. Why
would highly educated parents increase the time they allocate to childcare at
the same time that their returns from paid employment have skyrocketed?
Finding no empirical support for standard explanations, such as selection or
income effects, we argue instead that increased competition for college admissions
may be an important factor. We provide empirical support for our explanation
with a comparison of trends between the United States and Canada,
across ethnic groups in the United States, and across U.S. states.


Erik Hurst

Frank P. and Marianne R. Diassi Distinguished Service Professor of Economics - Booth School of Business, University of Chicago

Deputy Director - Becker Friedman Institute

Betsey Stevenson

Professor of Public Policy and Economics - University of Michigan

Get daily updates from Brookings