We begin our analysis of time use by looking at the overall trends in how people spend their time. Data here are drawn from a nationally representative sample of 15,390 Canadians. People were asked to recall what they did during the previous day from the time they woke up until they went to bed at night. What you see below are the means of time they reported spending in each activity over a 7-day week for the general population.
There are a few noteworthy trends in this graph. First, it is clear that the single activity that takes up the largest chunk of people’s time is work. Next are leisure activities such as watching TV, socializing, and participation in sports, followed by domestic activities such as housekeeping, cooking, and shopping.
Means like those shown here are rarely useful on their own. What is often more interesting is to break down these trends over meaningful segments of the population in order to better understand what is driving these trends. For instance, people who have young children (for obvious reasons) may spend their time differently than those without children. Thus, we broke down the data and compared people who are not partnered (i.e., do not have a spouse or a common-law partner), people who are partnered with no young children, and people with partners who also have young children (i.e., 5 years of age or younger) at home.
Note: The error bars represent 95% confidence intervals around the means of time spent on each activity.
When you segment the data in this way, you see a more detailed and informative picture of people’s time use. For example, it is clear in this figure that parents actually report spending more time on the job than non-parents, suggesting that parents are more likely to work full time than other groups. However, the average time spent working was just over 4 hours, which suggests that there is quite a bit of variability in the amount of time spent working even within this group. Breaking it down further, we see that one source of this variability is gender. Among parents, Dads report spending an average of 5 hours and 15 minutes working, compared to 3 hours and 2 minutes worked on average by Moms (more on gender and time use in a later post).
Next, we look at time spent on household-related chores among the three segments of the population, and indeed there are notable differences among these groups. First, single people without children spend the least amount of time on all household chores. In contrast, the graph above shows that parents report spending more time than other groups on cooking and housekeeping (not to mention the additional two hours spent each day caring for their children).
This extra time has to come from somewhere, so what types of activities do parents sacrifice to make up for that time? The figure suggests other chores such as shopping or maintenance and repair activities. In both these categories parents spend less time than partnered people who are childless – giving us insight into differences in priorities around the home among those with and without children.
When we looked further at leisure activities, we see that this is the category where parents are consistently spending less time compared to other groups. Parents watch less TV, read less, and spend less time socializing with others and on sports and leisure activities. On the other hand, compared to singles, people with partners appear to trade off socializing and sports and leisure activities for watching TV and reading.
As we dove further in people’s time spent at meals, we observe some interesting differences in mealtimes across different family structures. Specifically, singles spend least amount of time on meals at home, but compared to childless couples they do not make up this time difference by spending more time on restaurant meals. People with partners spend just as much time as singles eating in restaurants, but they spend considerably more time on meals at home, presumably because meal time at home also serves as a time to interact with their partners rather than just eat. On the other hand, people with kids actually spend less time on meals both at home and in restaurants. Do these people eat less? Unlikely. Mealtime still probably serves as a time to interact with one’s partner and family, but compared to their childless counterparts, mealtimes necessarily become more “efficient” (as people’s toddlers toss the food all over the floor).
Taken as a whole, data from a national sample of Canadians show that parents are working longer hours, spending more time through their days cooking and cleaning, and spend almost two additional hours each day caring for children. Their leisure time is spent differently that non-parents, and despite having more mouths to feed at dinnertime, they also spend less time eating.
It is clear that time use varies across family structures. People place different importance on different activities depending on their stage of life. Indeed, identifying the key differences in behaviour among this and other important demographic groups can allow for greater focus both in marketing efforts and in public policy designed to serve these groups.
This analysis is based on the Statistics Canada General Social Survey. All computations, use and interpretation of these data are entirely that of the authors.
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