Title: Changes in Daily American Life: 1965-2005

Author(s): John P. Robinson and Steven Martin

Publisher: Social Indicators Research

Year: 2009

URL:  http://www.jstor.org/stable/27734894

Topics: Trends in leisure time, American Heritage Time-Use Survey

Methods: Analysis of summary statistics from the American Heritage Time-Use Survey (AHTUS), which includes harmonized data sets from different surveys on leisure time, including one conducted by the BLS and four conducted by the University of Maryland and the University of Michigan. The BLS survey includes 10,000 respondents.

What it says: Findings are grouped into several sub-headings, which are listed below with key take-aways:

  • Paid Work – the average time that men (ages 19-64) spend doing paid work has declined significantly over the past three decades, though that decline has been less steep in the past two decades. Women in this age group have increased the time spent in paid word activities, though this increase has been concentrated to the 1985-1995 decade. This is contrary to previous findings about paid work, which indicates that work hours increased significantly from 1979-1991. The authors of this study using the AHTUS find that, while the number of hours that men spend working has decreased, the intensity of working hours across the board has increased (meaning that workers today take less breaks).
  • Unpaid work – this includes all unpaid domestic work. Men’s unpaid work rose during the first two decades of the period, and nearly 100% of women engaged in some form of paid work each day. Women’s unpaid work decreased significantly over the time period. Time spent in childcare jumped significantly for both men and women.
  • Recent Trends in Sleep, TV, and Other Free Time –
    • Women tend to get more sleep than men, almost entirely due to lower levels of employment for women. Working men and working women tend to get about the same amount of sleep. There are significant gaps in sleep between education levels, with the least educated people tending to get the most sleep. This may reflect a growing trend for a 24/7 economy as a competitor for sleep.
    • Gains in time spent TV viewing can be seen as directly related to decrease in time spent working. Other free-time activities (including visiting and reading) have remained relatively constant as TV watching has increased.

What I think about it: This could be useful as a broad overview of general data about American time use over the years, and it supports some of the suggestions from “When Going Gets Tough” about how people choose to spend their leisure time. I’m not sure what to make of the fact that less educated people tend to spend more time sleeping (and I’m not sure that this will fit into the feature), but I think that the differences between working and non-working people and men and women might be useful.

What it all means: Americans today spend less time working, but they work more intensely. The increase in TV watching is directly related to the decrease in time spent working, and the time spent in other leisure activities has remained fairly constant. This could mean that Americans continue to make time for higher-quality leisure time even as their time spent engaged in lower-quality leisure time has increased.