Soundbite: Time and a Half


In Time for Life: The Surprising Ways Americans Use Their Time, John P. Robinson, a sociologist at the University of Maryland, and Geoffrey Godbey, a professor of leisure studies at Penn State, debunk the popular belief that we have less free time than in the past. Relying on time diaries kept over the past several decades by tens of thousands of individuals, the authors detail just how we pass our days and argue persuasively that treatises such as The Overworked American and The Second Shift, both of which conclude that leisure time is dwindling, are seriously mistaken. REASON Senior Editor Nick Gillespie spoke with Geoffrey Godbey via phone in late February.

Q: What's most surprising about your findings?

A: Americans average about 40 hours of free time per week. That's a gain of almost one hour per day since 1965. This is time apart from work, meals, personal grooming, child care, sleep, etc. It's time spent on sports and recreation, with TV, radio, and movies, reading for pleasure, and hobbies. But when people are asked how much leisure time they have, their median estimate is about 16 hours a week. In fact, less than one out of five American has fewer than 20 hours of free time a week.

Another surprise has to do with what we call "more-more" behavior. For instance, people who have personal computers in their households don't read fewer books, magazines, or newspapers than people without PCs–they read more. The cliché that if you want something done, you should ask a busy person, has a great deal of truth to it.

Q: Why the increase in leisure time?

A: It's always misleading to focus on a single factor, but a lot of our technology has made us more [productive]. For instance, I just printed a book out on my laser printer this morning.

Q: If people really have more time, then why do they feel rushed?

A: Twenty-five of those 40 hours come on weekdays, not on weekends, and they come in chunks of an hour here, an hour-and-a-half there. In many cases, that time does not provide for psychological release from work or other obligations. If leisure means tranquility, these hour-long chunks may not have much effect.

A major reason people feel rushed is that they believe the amount of change in our society is just unprecedented. More than anything else, rushing relates to the number of roles a person plays. If you're a married female with children in a two-car family and working full-time for pay, you'll feel rushed. Throw a pet in there, and you've got the whole catastrophe. Men's increased participation in child care and housework has a similar effect.