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Leisure Time Measured in New Survey : Americans Fall Short, Sociologist Finds

January 13, 1986|BETTY CUNIBERTI | Times Staff Writer

COLLEGE PARK, Md. — Is it true that Americans have more fun?

As a matter of fact, they don't.

But blonds apparently do.

Compared with their Western neighbors, Americans rank right about in the middle in hours of free time, and they are no leisure-time match for the fair-haired Dutch.

So says University of Maryland sociology professor John Robinson (no relation to the Rams coach), who has been studying free time for more than 20 years.

Recently Robinson has come up with some preliminary findings on a free-time survey of 11 Western nations, suggesting that Americans--long portrayed by themselves and others as fun worshipers--actually lag behind the Dutch, Danes, Canadians and British in leisure participation.

2,000 People Kept Diaries

Leisure activities were roughly defined as: watching television, socializing, reading; recreational, sports and cultural activities, and participation in clubs and organizations.

With more than 2,000 people in each country keeping diaries of their daily activities, those in the Netherlands averaged 31 hours of free time per week, Denmark 28, Canada 27, the United Kingdom 25, Finland and the United States 24, Austria, Japan and Switzerland 23, Norway 22 and France 20.

Robinson theorizes that, among other factors, the Dutch may spend less time than other nations at jobs.

"It's a more stable, more predictable economy," Robinson said, "just a more organized and better ordered life."

Surely it is startling that the French finished last. But Robinson, who visited each country surveyed except Japan, said the French may have finished last only because eating meals was not defined as a leisure activity.

Sex Not Considered Leisure

"There might be a problem with the definition of what is free time and what is not," said Robinson, who is still analyzing the data and making changes before completion. "Their meals are maybe two or three hours in length, and are a social occasion."

A Finnish reporter took Robinson to task for not including sex as a leisure activity, but Robinson opted to respect subjects' privacy on that subject, delegating it to the "personal care" category, which in this survey was not considered leisure activity.

"The philosophical arguments are endless," he said.

In defining what comprises free time, what Robinson really had to do was define and categorize non-free time. He decided that other than free time there is necessary time (mainly sleeping, eating and other personal care), committed time (mainly housework, family care and shopping) and contracted time (mainly paid work and commuting time.)

Of these, Robinson found that across the board the most time was spent with the "necessary" activities, ranging from 44% of the time in Finland to 50% in France.

'Working Woman's Burden'

Men tended to have more free time than women, and employed women had the least free time of all: 19 hours a week in the U.S., compared to 22 hours a week for employed American men. But Robinson said this should not be considered evidence of a universal "woman's burden."

"It's the working woman's burden," Robinson said, getting right to the point. "When you factor in employed women and housewives together as just women, across the whole life span free time of men and women averages out to be pretty equivalent."

Of all the people surveyed, those with the least free time were employed French women, who reported 13 hours a week.

Robinson noted, however, that in comparison to past surveys, leisure time is increasing in all Western nations, as is television watching.

Time spent watching the tube varied greatly from country to country, from less than 15% of free time in Norway to more than 50% of free time in Japan. Americans also spend more than 50% of their free time watching television.

Socializing Also Popular

The second most popular activity is socializing, but this, too, varied greatly. The Dutch reported 13.4 hours a week of getting together with friends, compared to 2.9 hours by the Japanese.

Reading takes about 10% of free time and is highest among people without children. Recreation and sports pursuits averaged about 5% of free time, with highest amounts reported in Austria (more than four hours a week), Finland (three hours) and Norway (three hours) and the lowest amounts (less than an hour a week) in Japan. Americans averaged 1 1/2 hours a week.

Another trend turning up in the statistics is that self-employed people seem to have less free time than those employed by someone else.

The 50-year-old Robinson has spent much of his non-free time studying free time because he thinks the results will hold clues to human behavior.

"When I was a graduate student at the University of Michigan," Robinson said, "we had all this information on how people spent money, which was good for economists, but nothing much on how people spent time, which is to sociology what money is to economics."

Robinson hopes to finish the study late this year.

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