Thursday, January 08, 2009

Lost Leisure Time

A new study by Harris Interactive has revealed that the average amount of leisure time enjoyed in the US took a dive in 2008, plummeting by 20% to hit a low of 16 hours per week. This contrasts to 20 hours/week in 2007, and to the whopping 26 hours/week Americans claimed back in 1973 when tracking first began. Here's the excerpt:
In a seemingly paradoxical situation, the research shows that Americans increased their work week one hour, yet claim to have lost four hours of leisure time. Harris conjectures that this “grey area” can be explained because the extra time is time spent “just checking in” via computer or wireless devices.

“While our respondents didn’t consider this as time spent working, they also didn’t count it as leisure time,” Harris said.

Also, as leisure time shrinks, Americans appear to be indulging more in solo activities, Harris found. Four of this year’s top five choices are typically done alone: reading, watching TV, exercising, and computer activities. Reading [up 1 point], watching TV [up 6 points] and exercising [up 3 points] all increased this year, while computer activities dropped 2 points. Though this may again seem counterintuitive, Harris said this can possibly be explained by the theory that Americans are spending just as much or more time on computer activities, yet are considering this time as neither work nor leisure.

Some additional findings of interest include:

* Spending time with family and kids is up 3 points from last year, and 5 points since 1995.

* There are some interesting changes in people's exercise patterns since 1995, including spending more leisure time exercising ( which is up 6 points since 1996) but less time swimming (which is down 5 points).

* In terms of "favorite" leisure activities, 30% list reading (up from 29% in 2007), 24% say it is TV watching and 17% say it is spending time with family and kids (up from 14% in 2007). 8% list exercise (8%) as their favorite leisure activity, while 7% list computer activities and 7% list fishing.

* The median amount of time spent working is now at 46 hours per week, a figure that includes non-traditional labour such as housekeeping and studying. This is up from 45 hours in 2007 and 41 hours a week back in 1973. However, because it's a median and because it includes Americans of all ages (including retirees, and I would assume children) 46 hours is actually an underestimate for most working adults. Americans in all three "worker" demographics on average clock in more than 50 hours a week:
- Generation Xers (those aged 32-43) currently work 55 hours each week.
- "Echo Boomers" (or Gen Y or Millenials, aged 18-31) put in 50 hours each week.
- Baby Boomers (aged 44-62) continue to work an average 50 hours a week.

I'm very happy to see that exercise and spending time with family and kids is on the rise, but the overall trend of less and less time for leisure (compounded with the average 50+ hour work week), while surely at least in part a reflection of the recent economic downturn, is also really too bad. I'm also intrigued by this concept of "just checking in", which I know takes up a huge amount of my time...but I have no problem whatsoever identifying it as labour. The idea that Americans are expressing a need for a third category between work and leisure is also fascinating. More evidence of the slippage between work and play?

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