Jared Soares / The New York Times

January 22, 2019

Cornell Researcher Finds Intensive Parenting Style Popular Across Socioeconomic Groups

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Multiple extracurricular activities, educational playtime and thoughtful, emotional conversations – all these attributes could describe the typical Cornell student experience, but are actually the definition of the term “intensive parenting.”

According to Cornell researcher Patrick Ishizuka, intensive parenting has become a dominant parenting style across socioeconomic groups.

In his paper “Social Class, Gender, and Contemporary Parenting Standards in the United States,” Ishizuka, Frank H.T. Rhodes postdoctoral fellow at the Cornell Population Center,  examined “intensive parenting” norms across social groups. He challenged the notion that the differences in parenting styles across socioeconomic groups arise from differences in cultural norms.

Using survey data from an original experiment with 3,600 parents, Ishizuka found that participants tended to rate time-intensive, heavily-involved parenting scenarios better than “natural growth” scenarios with less parental involvement and supervision.

“The study indicates that intensive parenting is now the dominant cultural model for how to raise children,” Ishizuka told The Sun in an email.

The intensive parenting model demands parents to supervise children’s activities, talk with them about their thoughts and feelings and respond to misbehavior with discussion, not hard rules.

Parents wanting to spend more time guiding their children is not a new phenomenon, according to the study, which said that American parenting norms have been shifting in this direction since at least the 1960s.

In the paper Ishizuka noted that in the past, “academic and popular accounts” pointed to socioeconomic and gender differences in parenting norms as the cause of parenting style differences. For example, some researchers argued poor and working-class parents see less value in directing children’s free time.

Ishizuka’s research challenges that narrative.

“What’s remarkable is the consistency of support for intensive parenting among parents of different social classes, regardless of whether mothers or fathers are parenting, or sons or daughters are involved,” he said.

According to Ishizuka, the research also reveals widespread economic anxiety and “pressure to invest heavily in children” despite changes in family and labor structures that have increased time constraints.

“Intensive parenting is an approach that many parents may feel increases their children’s educational attainment and future economic opportunity,” Ishizuka said.

Widespread pressure to parent this way does not mean that intensive parenting ideals are attainable for everyone.

“Parents need a significant amount of time and money to engage in intensive parenting,” Ishizuka said. “Single parent, dual-earner, and low-income families are likely to face greater challenges in realizing these intensive parenting ideals.”