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Hey, Breadwinners: Where's the Loaf?

Living: A pair of time-management gurus say Americans have more leisure time now than at any time in the last 30 years. Others are having trouble believing them.

June 05, 1997|MICHAEL RAPHAEL | ASSOCIATED PRESS

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Hey! Yeah, you, running out the door, late for work, gotta drop the kids off at school, pick up groceries, make dinner and clean the house.

Relax. You've got more free time that you think.

Two acclaimed time-management gurus studied the daily routines of 10,000 Americans over the past 30 years and came up with a controversial conclusion:

The average American has more free time than at any other point in the past three decades.

John Robinson and Geoffrey Godbey declare in their new book, "Time for Life," that in contrast to recent studies showing a decrease in free time, Americans are now enjoying an average of close to 40 hours of leisure a week--up from 35 hours in 1965.

"We knew people felt more rushed. We knew that stress levels . . . seemed to be going up," said Godbey, a professor of leisure studies at Penn State University. "We thought more free time would slow down the pace of life, but what we're finding is, free time is increasing as the pace of life increases."

The bad news is that all this lazy time is usually available in only short bursts scattered throughout the workweek.

And just what are we doing with all this precious time?

By far, Americans are spending the largest single share of it watching TV--almost 15 hours a week, more than double the time spent socializing. For every hour spent in front of the TV, fewer than four minutes are spent doing cultural activities.

The leisure time total does not include time spent having sex, because the participants were so uneven in how they reported it.

Despite the large-scale entry of women into the work force since 1965, both men and women saw an increase in their free time. Men's leisure time increased five hours to 40.4; women's climbed six hours to 38.9.

The results have raised a few eyebrows. Several books, including "The Second Shift" and "The Overworked American" by Harvard professor Juliet Schor, have concluded that Americans have less free time, not more.

Numerous publishers rejected "Time for Life." One editor, Godbey said, wouldn't even read the manuscript. "She said, 'This is crap. This can't be right, because we all know we have less time for leisure,' " he said. The book was published by Penn State Press.

Government statistics don't back up their conclusions, either. But the authors suggest the Labor Department isn't seeing the whole picture.

"People think they are working longer hours, but in reality they mistake pace of work for length of time spent working," Godbey said.

The authors used detailed, hour-by-hour time diaries. The information was collected once a decade as part of the American's Use of Time Project. Robinson, a professor of sociology at the University of Maryland at College Park, has worked on every survey since 1965.

He calls the diary findings the "hidden life of America" because they uncover time uses that people normally would not report to the government.

Schor, however, said the authors' data and conclusions are flawed.

"The 1965 sample is biased toward people who work long hours," she said. "When [Robinson] then compares it to a real population sample in 1975, lo and behold, hours have fallen. You will notice that there is no decline in hours of work in his data after 1975."

"We were as surprised by the results as anyone," Robinson said.

Some of the other surprises include the findings that Americans are working less each week (women, five fewer hours; men, six), sleeping about the same each night (just under eight hours) and spending just as much time with their children (nine hours for women, 2 1/2 for men) as they did 30 years ago.

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