Bullshit Studies 101: “Parenting Time Doesn’t Matter.”

Parenting Time Does Matter

I quote studies and research on here all the time, because, well, frankly I’m personally not that intelligent — so I figure if anyone is going to assign any veracity to anything I say, I should probably back it up with someone who’s actually vetted in some context. Whenever I quote studies, I’m always careful to say “Look, you can take pretty much any set of facts and figures and use them to prove any conclusion if you try hard enough.” That is true. It’s hard to look at the sun, for example, and say “That’s not the sun. That’s water.” But with a set of data, you can pretty much argue for Side A or Side B depending on what benefits you more. That’s actually a huge problem in business, and especially in business as companies start to embrace “Big Data.” Stephen Dubner, another in a long line of people smarter than me, has argued this as well.

So, if you want a good example of “a study that’s absolute bullshit,” here we go: this basically says “parenting time doesn’t matter.” 

Here’s a brief personal interlude before we get going on why this is so stupid. I grew up on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. There’s a decent amount of rich people there; it always finishes as a top-10 zip code for average wealth and all that. If you’re unfamiliar with the basic premise of affluent people, they (a) have to work a lot (to maintain the wealth) and/or (b) attend a lot of functions (because people throwing functions are always chasing affluent people to give them some of their money). As a result, when they have children — and rich people almost always have children because, you know, they can — those children are sometimes not around their parents as much. You see nannies or babysitters or whatever else.

I grew up around a lot of those people. My own parents were mostly around, broadly speaking. I definitely have a lot of problems here and there, but I think I was doing better at the time than a lot of these “absentee parent” rich kids I grew up with, who would (this is a generalization, but it happened a lot) turn to pot faster, turn to harder drugs faster, turn to stupid decisions faster, etc.

BTW, the most dangerous thing in the world is someone who (a) thinks they’re smart, (b) makes reckless decisions, and (c) has an economic safety net. It’s nearly impossible to fix that person without a lot of problems happening first.

Anyway, so yea … I have personally observed (and felt) the effects of “more parenting” vs. “less parenting.” I know parenting makes a difference. And, uh, hello. Nature and nurture and all that. So clearly this is a click-bait study and headline designed to draw visitors, right?


Here’s how The New York Times explained this:

In particular, the study does not measure how much time parents typically spend with their children. Instead, it measures how much time each parent spends with children on only two particular days — one a weekday and the other a weekend day.

The result is that whether you are categorized as an intensive or a distant parent depends largely on which days of the week you happened to be surveyed. For instance, I began this week by taking a couple of days off to travel with the children to Disney World. A survey asking about Sunday or Monday would categorize me as a very intense parent who spent every waking moment engaged with my children. But today, I’m back at work and am unlikely to see them until late. And so a survey asking instead about today would categorize me as an absentee parent. The reality is that neither is accurate.

If you lined up 100 random people and asked them “Why do you work?” I bet over 60 would say “… to provide for my family…” so clearly there’s an aspect/element of “Well, in order to provide for these children, I need to be away from these children.” (That’s a major paradox of life, eh?) As a result, any discussion on the effect of parenting time is somewhat nuanced — you pretty much have to be away for chunks of time unless you have a trust fund or something, and if you have a trust fund, you’re probably still away for chunks of time. (Also, obviously there’s a major difference between the two genders about how this is perceived and I’m kind of glossing over that right now, although I have addressed that in the past.)

Long story short: this study is complete bullshit. Of course parenting time matters. Are you telling me that if a child was born, left on a mountain, and had to raise itself (no parents at all) it would do OK? It wouldn’t. (It would actually probably die fairly quickly, if we’re being honest.) And then you’re telling me that same child with even a minimum of parenting doesn’t do better? It does. On an absolute base level, of course parenting matters.

BTW, it’s also the strongest brand in the world, IMHO. Parenting, that is. 


Ted Bauer