The Pennsylvania State University ©1997

Men’s Free Time Growing Faster, Book Says

February 4, 2000

University Park, Pa. -- For the first time since the 1960s, men report having significantly more free time than women, according to researchers in the newest edition of their book, "Time for Life: The Surprising Ways Americans Use Their Time."

"Free time continues to grow, although at a slower pace than in prior decades. The present results continue to defy popular beliefs about the 'work obsessed' American life-style," says Dr. Geoffrey Godbey, professor of leisure studies in Penn State's College of Health and Human Development and book co-author.

Published by Penn State Press, this revised edition contains results from the latest national diary study of more than 10,000 respondents of all ages across the country. These respondents reported on all their activities across a 24-hour day to compare with earlier national studies completed in 1965, 1975 and 1985.

The authors are Godbey and Dr. John Robinson, director of the Americans' Use of Time Project at the University of Maryland, the oldest and most comprehensive study of how Americans use time.

The most recent study found that Americans between 18-61 years old reported 41 hours a week of free time in their daily diaries, compared to about 25 hours a week in 1965 and 39.5 hours in 1985. A notable gender gap in free time emerged, with men reporting five more hours a week of free time than women, 43.6 hours for men vs. 38.5 hours for women.

In each of the earlier surveys, men's free time was only 1-2 hours a week greater than women, reflecting what the author's referred to as an "invisible hand" that kept the genders in rough equivalence in their major ways of spending time.

"These overall averages obviously conceal a great variation in the lives of working women and full-time homemakers," says Robinson. "Moreover that gap is growing, with housewives now reporting almost 50 diary hours of free time compared to about 33 hours for women working more than 20 hours a week. That 17-hour gap was only 12 hours in 1985."

One reason for the continued increase in free time was that Americans reported less productive activity (paid work plus family care) than in earlier eras. The major reason for the decline in the 1990s was among women -- both employed and at home -- continued to do less housework. Men's housework and paid work hours were about the same as in 1985.

The main changes behind the 1985-95 gains in free time came from decreased personal care, explains Godbey. One decline was found in the time spent eating, perhaps reflecting the move away from longer meals to snacking throughout the day. Another decline was found in time spent grooming, perhaps reflecting the "dress down" and "casual Friday" movements of the 1990s.

When examined across all diary activities, men's and women's daily lives continued to become more similar. This movement toward more unisex lifestyles was found for 15 of 22 major daily activities examined by Godbey and Robinson.

The "Time for Life" book describes quantitatively how a typical day in American life has been changing. Among the additional surprising findings in other facets of daily life:

--Parents reported no less time in child care than in 1985 or earlier eras. Fathers' child care time was far more likely to be in form of play or conversation than was mothers' child care time.

--For the first time, perceptions of stress and feeling rushed showed signs of leveling off or even declining. Only 48 percent of Americans reported moderate or great stress in 1996 compared to 54 percent in 1990.

--Time spent watching television increased, but not as rapidly as in earlier decades. Television time continues to command almost half of free time.

--Time spent on non-media activities such as fitness, computer use, and socializing also showed some increase since 1985.

--In contrast to the increased time on other leisure activities, time spent on "social capital" activities--particularly for organizational and volunteer activities and for newspaper reading continues to decline.


Vicki Fong (814) 865-9481 (o)/ (814) 238-1221 (h)
EDITORS: Dr. Godbey is at (814) 863-8985 or at by email.