Title: The Time-Pressure Illusion: Discretionary Time Vs. Free Time

Author(s): Robert E. Goodin, James Mahmud Rice, Michael Bittman, Peter Saunders

Publisher: Social Indicators Research

Year: 2005

URL: http://www.jstor.org.proxy.uchicago.edu/stable/pdfplus/27522213.pdf?acceptTC=true&jpdConfirm=true

Topics: leisure time, discretionary time, “time poverty”

Methods: Analysis of 1992 Australian Time-Use Survey, a diary-based exercise largely considered one of the “gold standards” in the field.

What it says: People may create their own “time pressure.” Since people might tend to do more than is strictly necessary in their hours devoted to time for particular things (sleep, work), they may also create the idea that they have less time than they actually do. However, the amount of discretionary time that is available to people and their perception of that time varies by types of people. In particular, those with the least discretionary time are under the least delusion about the amount of time they have and those with the least “free time” because of their commitments have the largest delusions about their actual amount of free time.  Free time is defined as time that is not spent on paid labor, household labor, or personal care and the authors define a “lower bound” as the bare minimum of time to spend on necessary tasks like sleep and work (for example, by their reasoning, the lower on working is to get oneself to the poverty line, above that is a choice to spend more hours working).  The “time-pressure illusion” is defined as the difference between the means of potentially uncommitted free time and uncommitted free time for each group. The authors conclude that the “time-pressure” illusion is greater for people in childless households than for households with children.

What I think about it: This is an interesting methodology that supports a lot of existing literature that suggests that free time has actually increased for adults despite a widespread perception that it has decreased. The authors raise some concerns about the validity of their own findings, which seem like reasonable doubts: that the actual “optional” nature of one’s free time is likely to be largely dependent on one’s circumstances (like a seriously ill person requiring much more sleep, on average). While they argue that this should be accounted for in their approach to indexing time-use, it seems like there might be a non-trivial amount of circumstances not captured by the methodology they’ve used to analyze the time-use surveys. Also, I wonder about the sensitivity of this model to regional analysis in the United States, particularly with the United States poverty measure that does not allow for differences in regional cost of living. Is it fair to say that time spent working beyond for a salary above the poverty level in New York City is really “optional?”

What it all means: This study fits into a broader category about time-use and the illusion of having less free time than one actually has. Its finding about households with children (especially single parents) having less free time than households without children is related to findings about leisure time use and might help clarify the distinction in different types of people from other studies, but I think that there are studies that are more relevant our hypotheses.