NEW YORK — Suzanne M. Bianchi, a social scientist who explored the changing landscape of late-20th-century American families, tracing how divorce, the shrinking gender gap, and women’s careers affected children, parents, and their households — died Nov. 4 in Santa Monica, Calif. She was 61.
The cause was pancreatic cancer, said her husband, Mark Browning.
Dr. Bianchi, who was on the faculty of the University of California Los Angeles, was best known among demographers for mining “time use” surveys — data on how, where, and with whom people spend time — to study how parents balance the demands of work and family.
Her most influential finding — that working mothers of the 1990s spent as much time with their children, or more, as stay-at-home mothers of the 1960s did — upended conventional wisdom.
Working mothers clocked an average of 30 hours a week on the job, but managed somehow to match the 1960s-era homemakers’ average weekly total of hands-on, close-contact time with their children: 12 hours.
“How could the time allocation of our family caregivers, women, change so dramatically without a negative effect on the time mothers spend with children?” Dr. Bianchi asked.
They got less sleep, she said, and did less housekeeping, worked flexible hours, turned down promotions, were more likely to take the children to work when the baby sitter did not show up, cut back on exercise and entertainment, watched less television, and gave less personal attention to their partners.
Her most influential finding was that working mothers of the ’90s spent as much time with their children as stay-at-home mothers of the ’60s.
The fathers of the 1990s spent more time with their children and did more housework than fathers of the previous generation, Dr. Bianchi added. But women did more of the work in the house and most of the schedule juggling. “The changed allocation of time in two-parent families is primarily a change in women’s allocation of time,” she said.
Suzanne Marie Bianchi was born in Fort Dodge, Iowa, the oldest of six children of Pesho and Rita Bianchi. After graduating as valedictorian of her high school class, she attended Creighton University in Omaha on a full scholarship awarded by the Hormel meatpacking plant in Fort Dodge.
After receiving her bachelor’s degree in sociology, Dr. Bianchi received a master’s degree at the University of Notre Dame and a doctorate from the University of Michigan, where she met her husband, who was a doctoral candidate in economics. In 1994, she became a sociology professor at the University of Maryland, where she was named the department chairwoman. She joined the UCLA faculty in 2009.
Besides her husband, she leaves three children, Jennifer, James and Jonathan Browning; her mother; and five siblings, Michael, Mary, David, and Richard Bianchi, and Diane Bianchi-Bell.