The XX Factor

French Moms Have More Fun

The Times of London has a rollicking interview with Elisabeth Badinter , the French philosopher and author of Le Conflit, La Femme et La Mère ( The Conflict, The Woman and The Mother ). Badinter, a mother of three and grandmother of “loads” of grandchildren, argues that in the past few decades motherhood has become a “threat to women’s liberation” because women have become so wrapped up in raising perfect children that they sublimate their own identities and desires. (Katie Roiphe made a somewhat similar argument in a DoubleX piece on mothers and Facebook .) “We’ve always been mediocre mothers [in France],” Badinter says, and goes on to say, “Today, we’re told we’re not allowed to smoke, to eat unpasteurised cheese or seafood or even to a drink a glass of wine when we are pregnant. It’s time to stop all that.” Of course, she says this as she chain-smokes Stuyvesants.

Badinter’s views are expressed in a way that is meant to maximally enrage her readers, but perhaps there is something to her thesis. A new study from economists at UC-San Diego shows that since the ‘90s, women from all levels of education have been spending more and more hours with their teenagers as part of the ” rug-rat race”-the attempt to get their children into top-notch colleges . Mothers do this even though they find child care less enjoyable than cooking or housework. According to ScienceDaily:

On average, the amount of time college-educated women spent on childcare went up from 13 to 22 hours per week since the mid-1990s. By contrast, the amount went up from 11 to 16 hours for women without a college education. … Most of the increases came from time spent with older, school-age children-and especially from time spent on taking the kids from one activity to the next.

Researchers noted that this happened at the same time that college admissions became hypercompetitive and college graduates started making a lot more money than noncollege grads. The authors of the study say that a lot of this time is “wasteful overinvestment.” Both parents and children would probably benefit from a little more unstructured time-though maybe not from smoking Stuyvesants during gestation.