Indicators of Child, Family, and Community Connections, Companion Volume of Related Papers. I. Introduction


Family time is a critical family and child resource. Both the amount and the quality of family time are associated with child outcomes (S. Hofferth & Sandberg, 2001) and the amount of couple interaction is linked to marital stability (Presser, 2000). Moreover, the regularity of family activities helps to structure family routine and forge family identity (Fiese et al., 2002). With the rise of women's employment (Bianchi & Spain, 1996), changes in family structure (Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics, 2003), the emergence of the 24-hour economy (Presser, 1999), longer workdays (Jacobs, 2003) and increased commute times (Hoffmeister & Edgell, 2003), family time has become the focus of considerable public discussion. Of particular concern, is the "time squeeze" faced by many American families (Jacobs, 2003). While the average workweek for the dual-earner couples and single-parents has not changed much, there are more dual earner couples and single-parent families today than in the past (Jacobs, 2003, p. 6). Moreover, work schedules have become more varied. With the expansion of the service industry, parents today are more likely to be working nights, weekends, and rotating shifts-schedules that are likely to encroach on family time and the regularity of family routines (Presser, 1999). In fact, a quarter of married couples contain at least one spouse working non-standard hours (Presser, 1999).

This topic is of concern because family time matters. By spending time with their children, parents build the bonds that are necessary for the transmission of human capital (Coleman, 1988). Children are better off in terms of academic and emotional well-being from time spent with parents, and from parenting that is characterized by warmth as well as rule-setting (Barber & Erickson, 2001; Baumrind, 1967; Herman, Dornbusch, Herron, & Herting, 1997; Maccoby & Martin, 1983). Finally, a lifecourse perspective would suggest that family routines and rituals experienced in childhood help set the course for how one will organize their own family life in adulthood (Elder, 1999).

Given the importance of family time for family, adult, and child well-being and evidence that new threats to family time are emerging, the need for current and valid measures of family time is increasing. While measures of family time, in particular the amount of time spent together by family members, are available, current measures often fall short in fully capturing the diversity of family activities. Moreover, few measures are available that assess the quality or meaning behind family activities and time. The unit of analysis is often at the individual level, without regard to interactions with other family members or attempts to measure activities with the entire family. Indeed, less is known about how to measure family routines and rituals and about how engaging in activities with family members helps to forge family identity.

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