Monday, August 06, 2012

The Leisure Time Paradox

Most Americans would scoff at the notion that they have more leisure time than their parents or grandparents did 40 years ago. But that's what time use studies show. Since 1965, men have gained 5.26 additional hours of leisure time per week. Women have an extra 3.56 hours compared to their counterparts in 1965. How come we don't feel more relaxed?

An elegant examination of trends in leisure time, published in Demography (unfortunately behind a paywall), answers the question: because the quality of leisure time has declined. Simply put, we aren't having as much fun as we once did. (See "Leisure Inequality in the United States: 1965-2003, by Almudena Sevilla, Jose I. Gimenez-Nadal, and Jonathan Gershuny, Demography, August 2012).

The analysis measures the quality of leisure time in three ways: pure leisure--or the amount of leisure time spent only in leisure activities with no accompanying non-leisure secondary activities (such as taking calls from your boss); co-present leisure (a better term might be social leisure)--or the amount of leisure time spent with a spouse or other adults but not children (who have a way of turning leisure into work); and leisure fragmentation--or the number of leisure intervals and their length.

This is what the researchers discovered, in their own words: "In stark contrast with the changing amount of leisure, most of our quality indicators show declines in the quality of leisure time over this period for both men and women." Specifically, the amount of time we spend in pure leisure has declined, as has the time we spend in social leisure.

"Despite general increases in leisure time, Americans report feeling increasingly harried now compared with 40 years ago," say the authors. "Our findings may help explain this paradox."

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