Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Time is Not All They Lack

When you see a quantitative survey on outdoor recreation in general or focused on a particular activity, the primary reason that participants do not participate more frequently or that the un-engaged do not participate at all (aside from “lack of interest” for weird activities like hunting) is almost always “lack of time.” I could paper my cube and half the others in my area with papers that report this finding. But when it comes to understanding what “lack of time” means, and what anyone can do about it, the data are pretty sketchy. Fundamentally, it is just another way of saying that in the competition for a person’s time, outdoor recreation loses out to other priorities. This ambiguity in the meaning and significance of “lack of time” is why a major objective for the hunter focus groups we will be having this summer is to disentangle this complex idea. I think “lack of time” is also frequently used as a convenient, socially acceptable response either when people haven’t thought the thing through very well or when they don’t want to say what the true reason is (e.g. my wife makes my life such hell when I want to go hunting all season that it just isn’t worth it; I can’t afford a $1,500 deer lease).

It appears to be “common knowledge” not only at my organization but among people in general that Americans are working longer hours than ever, with less free time to spend on leisure. However, the social science literature doesn’t support that folk belief. For example, a recent
paper that analyzes time use diary data of non-retired people from 1965 through 2003 has found that for four different operational definitions of “leisure time” (broadly, not including market work, household work, time obtaining human capital – i.e. education, time in health care, or any transportation time associated with these activities), leisure time has actually increased for both men and women over this period. The average man has about 8 hours of additional leisure time per week, which is driven by fewer hours at work. The average woman has about 6 additional hours per week; even though women are spending more hours in the workforce, that time is more than offset by reductions in time spent on household work. They also found that people with greater educational attainment have less leisure time than those with less education, suggesting that there is a leisure gap that runs in the opposite direction of the income gap.

Another study (citation below) focusing on gender differences with respect to free time has some interesting findings (which I will quote here basically verbatim):
  • Overall, men do have more free time than women (about half an hour per day).
  • Free time for women is more often “contaminated” by other activities or the presence of children.
  • Marriage, having preschoolers, and hours of employment inhibit free time among women.
  • Number of children and hours of employment – but not marriage – inhibit free time among men.
  • Furthermore, men experience greater subjective net benefit from free time than women do. (Among women, feelings of time pressure are not as strongly reduced by an increase in the amount of free time.)

One nifty calculation in the study shows free time for men and women based on their regression models. The average amount of free time for men in a day is 5:36 and for women is 5:08. However, if men “experienced life” as women do and women “experienced life” as men do (i.e. applied men’s coefficients to women and women’s coefficients to men), the average man’s daily free time would be 4:49 and the average woman’s would be 6:08.

(Source: Marybeth Mattingly and Suzanne Bianchi. 2003. Gender Differences in the Quantity and Quality of Free Time: The U.S. Experience. Social Forces 81: 999-1030.)

So there appears to be a paradoxical co-existence of a quantitative increase in free time and a qualitative increase in time pressure, particularly among women.

The reduction in household work has made a huge difference in the lives of women. I have spoken to older women who have testified to the way housekeeping has changed in their lifetimes. Presumably this overall reduction in time spent on housework arises from a combination of increasing use of time- and labor-saving technologies (e.g. microwaveable meals, restaurant take-out, dry cleaners, day care for children, domestic help such as cleaning or yard work services, plastic diapers, Roomba) and a lowering of housekeeping standards (e.g. such that the house no longer is maintained at the level where the Queen of England could drop in on a moment’s notice and the white glove test is utterly abandoned). But I wonder: do many women still judge themselves by their grandmothers’ standards of housekeeping? It seems plausible to me that many women are forgoing housework but still worrying about the chores they are not doing. And many women clearly feel the stress of playing multiple roles: working woman with job responsibilities equal to a man, manager of the hacienda, and primary caretaker of children. It’s hard to tease out how much of this is due to social pressures (from society at large or more immediate friends and family) and how much is (at least to some degree) voluntary. I have to admit, I have known women at places I have worked who take on crazily large responsibilities for all elements of what is going on at home even though they have jobs equal to (or greater than) their husbands or, rarely, have husbands who are staying home with the children full-time. I get the sense that some of them don’t trust their husbands to do things right or don’t want to hand over the power that comes with being the person in charge. But I assume the majority of them have been more or less forced into it due to gender roles.

Also, these diary studies only measure the amount of time spent in different areas. It is unclear to me whether the nature of work time and free time has changed since 1965. Are our work hours more stressful and mentally taxing, making people more worn out during their leisure time and hence apt to go for the easy thing (e.g. plopping in front of the TV) rather than pursue activities that would be more refreshing and that they would ultimately get more benefit from? Is our leisure time more fragmented now that people are increasingly “on call” for work even during leisure time or less capable (willing?) to leave the job at the office door? (If the stereotypes are true, we would expect this bleed-over more frequently among women, who tend to be less prone to compartmentalizing.)

And for those of us in the recreation field, how relevant is the change to more structured activities for children? How about the increased availability of electronic media and other sedentary activities? How about the over-protectiveness of parents who are so sensitive to the Stranger Danger issue that they are happier when their kids are upstairs vegging in front of a screen and not out in the world doing something physical?

Factoid of the Day: The 2005 American Time Use Study
reports that the average adult spends 2.6 hours per day watching television and only 20 minutes participating in sports, exercise, or recreation. (For me, the amount of time watching TV – on DVD – is almost entirely a subset of the time spent exercising. I heart my treadmill.)


Tam said...

There was an article by Joel Waldfogel in Slate this week arguing that women do not, in fact, do more work than men in advanced countries these days. It was funny to see both that article and this post within a couple of days of each other.

Sally said...

Thanks for linking to that article!

For what it's worth, I think this is true: "But if women with careers work more than men, while women overall work the same amount as men, then women without market jobs must work less than men."

Tam said...

I assume what you mean is that you think women with market jobs work more than men, while women without market jobs work less than men. It seems plausible to me.

I thought it was interesting that they cited a study that found that men had more leisure time partly because they spent less time doing things like sleeping and eating. I wonder if that includes hygiene, makeup, doing hair, etc.

jen said...

I wonder, how fragmented is the time for women vs. men?