Americans have more leisure time today than they have had in 30 years.
Americans also don’t believe a word of that.
Ask yourself. Odds are, you feel there are simply not enough hours in the day and you have absolutely no leisure time.
The good news is, we do seem to be feeling better about being rushed.
Every 10 years, the University of Maryland Use of Time Project asks 1,705 Americans - selected to represent the population as a whole - to fill out time diaries. The diaries show how we actually spend our days, not how we think or feel we do.
Started in 1965, the project found in 1985 that free time had increased slightly over the past 20 years to 40 hours a week for men, 39 hours for women.
Free time is defined as what’s left over after work, commuting, child care, housekeeping, sleeping, eating and all chores necessary to a functioning life.
The 1995 project has been completed. Its authors, John P. Robinson of the University of Maryland and Geoffrey Godbey of Pennsylvania State University, discovered that leisure time grew again from 1985. They wrote about the study in the June issue of American Demographics magazine.
Given the pace of modern life, how have Americans managed to find more leisure time? By cutting down substantially on the time they spend working and doing housework.
Diane Crispell, executive editor of American Demographics, points out in an accompanying story in the June issue that Americans work fewer hours than they realize.
“Among those who estimate a work week of 40 to 44 hours, time diaries record two fewer actual working hours,” she wrote. “Among those who estimate working 50 to 54 hours, diaries record nine fewer hours. And of those who estimate 75 or more hours of work a week, time diaries record 25 fewer hours.”
What’s the difference between perception and reality? Well, it’s mostly the blending of work and leisure. If you’re at your desk but actually planning a vacation, then you’re not working.
On the home front, we’re also doing everything we can to gain leisure time. We drink pre-mixed juices instead of taking the time to deal with frozen concentrate. Cats have become the pets of choice. Dogs require too much walking.
But, of course, Americans say they have less, not more, leisure time.
Ask them, as several polls have done, and they’ll tell you they have at most 20 hours of leisure a week. That doesn’t jibe, however, with other studies that show the average American spends 21 hours a week watching television.