Title: Leisure Inequality in the United States: 1965-2003

Author(s): Almudena Sevilla, Jose I. Gimenez-Nadal, Jonathan Gershuny

Publisher: Demography

Year: 2012


Topics: Leisure time, American Heritage Time Use Study, quality of leisure time, happiness, income, time use

Methods: Regression analysis and summary statistics of the AHTUS. The authors perform the analysis of less educated and more educated individuals separately.

What it says: Highly educated individuals now have substantially less leisure time than less educated individuals, compared to forty years ago when leisure time was fairly equally distributed between people of different education levels. Quality of leisure time has declined across the board for people at all income levels, though less educated individuals (those with at most a high school education) have experienced a steeper decline than more educated individuals (those with at least some college or more). This finding may help explain the paradox that, though Americans have a higher quantity of leisure time than they did forty years ago, they now report feeling more busy and harried. The authors define leisure time as all non-work activities that you cannot outsource to the market and are not biological needs (so childcare, housework, sleep, etc. are excluded from the definition). Leisure categories in the study include watching television, sports activities, out-of-home leisure, and socializing. No single increase in a leisure activity (like increased time watching TV) can explain the overall decline in leisure quality in the data. Low-educated men increased leisure time by almost one hour more than highly educated men, and differences across women in various educational groups are greater. More educated men experienced smaller declines in the quality of their leisure time than less educated men. Among women, those with less education tend to have lower quality leisure time, though highly educated women have leisure time that is more fragmented.

Quality of leisure is defined with consideration of both the instantaneous level of enjoyment that may be difficult to capture in the AHTUS data structure and from studies where people have assigned levels of enjoyment to particular types of leisure activities. The authors put leisure into three classes: “pure leisure,” which is defined as time when leisure is the main activity and is not happening simultaneously with home production or market activity (so watching TV while making dinner doesn’t count), “co-present leisure” as leisure time spent with a spouse or other adults, and “fragmented leisure” as the degree to which leisure time is split up with non-leisure activities. “Pure leisure” and “co-present leisure” are considered to be higher quality (and leisure time spent not in the presence of others or while engaged in non-leisure activities is considered lower quality leisure), while a more fragmented leisure schedule is considered lower quality leisure.

What I think about it: This seems like a well-researched framework for considering what constitutes high vs. low quality leisure time. While there is no discussion of arts engagement specifically, I think their discussion about declining leisure quality across the board and for low-income individuals in particular could be highly relevant to this article. In terms of how they define inequality, it seems like their definition might be a bit narrow in that they only consider two groups of people by their education level. I think their results are still interesting and valid, but I wonder what the magnitude of the relationships would be if they had examined the differences in leisure quality by income level or by more education levels.

What it all means: If less educated individuals have lower quality leisure time than highly educated individuals, it might be that the costs of high quality leisure are more prohibitive for less educated people. This reminds me of the finding from “When Going Gets Tough” where cost was not a barrier for everyone, but for those who said that cost was a barrier, it was likely their main reason for not attending an event. I wonder if there is some more data from both WGGT and the SPPA study that investigates self-reported time constraints for lower-income individuals that will help us tie the findings from this article to the data that deals more specifically with arts engagement for lower income people.