How Do Americans Use Their Time?

May 07, 1997

University Park, Pa. --- Though they may not believe it, Americans have more free time than they did 30 years ago. A new book shows that Americans have almost five hours more free time per week than in the 1960s.

"Most of the time they have gained is used for television viewing," says co-author Dr. Geoffrey Godbey, professor of leisure studies in Penn State's College of Health and Human Development.

He and Dr. John P. Robinson, professor of sociology and director of the Americans' Use of Time Project at the University of Maryland, have written a new book, "Time For Life: The Surprising Ways Americans Use Their Time," published by Penn State Press.

Americans over 50 years old are the biggest gainers of free time, studies show. "People think they are working longer hours, but in reality, they mistake pace of work for length of time spent working. On average, the number of hours that people spend working has diminished," Godbey says.

Robinson's and Godbey's studies shows that the bigger issue is pace of life, because most of the free time comes during the week, but is in small amounts which doesn't allow a person to undertake more satisfying uses of leisure.

The researchers argue that Americans' sense of "time famine" stems from the increased emphasis on the "consumption" of experiences and from the phenomenon of "time deepening," doing more and doing things more quickly and simultaneously.

On average, men and women have about the same amount of free time available to them. Studies have shown that women do about two-thirds of the housework and four-fifths of the child care. Even women who live alone spend twice as many hours doing housework as men who live alone.

"Within the housework, there are still divisions," says Godbey, explaining that women do more inside home care and men do more outside home care.

"Time is not a very important indicator of productivity," Godbey says, citing the example that the amount of time a student spends studying shows little relationship to grades earned.

In their book, Robinson and Godbey go beyond describing their controversial findings to confront the numerous time paradoxes facing Americans, such as feeling more rushed and stressed when we actually have more free time, having free time in periods when it is least useful, and investing time in activities that bring us minimal enjoyment or fulfillment.

Their source of time-use information, the Americans' Use of Time Project, is the only such detailed historical data archive in the United States. Every 10 years the project has been asking thousands of Americans to report their daily activities on an hour-by-hour basis in time diaries. These time diaries offer a more careful and complete account of where time goes because when the federal government measures work, they rely on people's estimates. The results of the time studies find that people are highly inaccurate in estimates of their own work time.

Robinson's and Godbey's new book leads to conclusions that are notably different from those reached by earlier authors such as Juliette Schor in her book, "The Overworked American."

Established in 1956, Penn State Press is a university press specializing in art history, black studies, general interest, history, literary studies, philosophy, political science, religion, regional studies, sociology, and women's studies.
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EDITORS : Dr. Godbey can be contacted at (814) 863-8985 (office) or at g7g@email.psu.edu on the Internet. Dr. Robinson can be contacted at (301) 405-5734.

Contact:
Alison Reeves (814)865-1327 (office) (814)863-1408 (fax) adr3@psu.eduThe Penn State Press Home Page is at http://www.personal.psu.edu/dept/psupress/
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Penn State

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