The mysterious decline of our leisure time

One puzzle of contemporary life is that so many people really feel in need of time, despite the fact that we work lower than our forebears. Within the nineteenth century, unions campaigned for “eight hours for work, eight hours for relaxation and eight hours for what we’ll.” Within the twentieth century, they succeeded of their push for shorter working hours. However what occurred to all that spare time we gained for doing “what we’ll”?

It’s not a notion drawback: we actually are stretched for time. Knowledge from the OECD shows that the typical time individuals spend on leisure has decreased for the reason that Nineteen Eighties. Within the 2010s, the typical time spent on leisure shrank in eight out of 13 nations for which information is obtainable. It dropped by 14 per cent in Korea, 11 per cent in Spain, 6 per cent within the Netherlands, 5 per cent in Hungary and 1 per cent within the US.

The variety of individuals in “time poverty” (which the OECD defines as these for whom the share of time dedicated to leisure and regenerative actions is lower than 60 per cent of the median) has risen since 2000 within the 10 nations for which information is obtainable.

One issue is that the decline in weekly working hours has levelled off. Common traditional weekly hours have been caught at round 40 for full-time staff within the OECD for the reason that Nineteen Nineties. However this alone can’t clarify the decline in leisure.

A study by the Decision Basis, a think-tank, compares detailed time-use surveys accomplished by individuals within the UK within the Seventies and 2010s. The information present the identical squeeze on leisure time as in different nations, with ladies extra pinched than males. Within the Seventies, working-age women and men every had about 6 hours of leisure per day, whereas at the moment males have 5 hours and 23 minutes, and ladies 4 hours and 47 minutes.

Girls are doing extra paid work than within the Seventies and males are doing extra housekeeping, however the greatest distinction lies in how a lot time each teams dedicate to childcare (which isn’t classed as leisure in these surveys). Girls spend greater than twice as a lot time on childcare than within the Seventies, despite the fact that they’re additionally spending far more time in paid work. Males spend vastly extra time on childcare now too. Which begs the query: who was taking care of the youngsters within the Seventies?

After I posed this query on Twitter, I used to be deluged with responses from individuals who mentioned they largely performed outdoors with out grownup supervision, returning for meals and bedtime. One reminisced about enjoying on a constructing website; one other about wandering round a celebration sipping the adults’ Bucks Fizz.

Altering attitudes amongst mother and father in the direction of threat would possibly properly be an element. It’s additionally doable that we consider “childcare” otherwise now. The surveys ask individuals to file their “major exercise” all through the day in 10 minute blocks. Maybe within the Seventies, childcare was extra typically one thing that occurred whilst you additionally did the housekeeping or socialised, whereas now it feels extra like an exercise in itself. A lot ink has been spilled on the professionals and cons of “helicopter parenting”. As a working mom, I feel it’s additionally doable that folks who work merely miss their youngsters and need to give attention to them once they get the possibility.

There’s a extra basic shift too. Though we’ve all the time multitasked to some extent, expertise now makes it tougher to divide our time between work and play. As Derek Thompson has written within the Atlantic, “leisure is getting leaky.” If I’m watching TV whereas checking my work e-mail on my cellphone, am I at leisure or at work? What about if I watch a humorous video whereas sitting at my desk? And because the boundaries dissolve, does it make work really feel higher, or leisure really feel worse?

For workplace employees, the pandemic blurred the boundaries greater than ever earlier than. However working from dwelling additionally allowed individuals to reclaim the time they spent commuting: valuable new slivers of time which many workers are reluctant to relinquish.

Commerce unions in some nations at the moment are resuming their push for shorter working hours. Within the UK, the Trades Union Congress has called for a four-day week, whereas in Germany and Austria some progressive collective agreements have let employees select decreased hours over larger pay. However the story of latest a long time is that, even once we work much less, we discover it laborious to relaxation.

Folks typically replicate ruefully that John Maynard Keynes was incorrect in 1930 when he predicted a transition to a 15-hour work week. However the economist knew it wouldn’t be that simple. “There isn’t a nation and no individuals, I feel, who can stay up for the age of leisure and of abundance with out a dread,” he wrote. “For we’ve been educated too lengthy to try and to not take pleasure in.”

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