Forecasts of leisure society fail to materialise

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The Independent Online

Predictions from decades past that, as society became wealthier, people would have whole days of extra spare time to spend on leisure activities have not materialised, according to new research.

A report, by Professor Jonathan Gershuny of the Institute of Social and Economic Research at the University of Essex, shows that, over the last 35 years, the average person has gained just 20 minutes free time each day.

The findings show that women have gained the most since the 1960s. They have 40 minutes extra time for themselves each day although overall they still have 50 minutes less leisure time than men.

Free time for men has only improved by a couple of minutes in the last 35 years. A slight reduction in paid working hours has been offset by more time spent on domestic duties.

The study, published inBritish Social Trends, shows that although women still do more unpaid work than men, 256 minutes a day compared with 172 minutes per day, the gender gap has halved over the last third of a century.

Professor Gershuny and his colleague, Kimberly Fisher, analysed data from BBC Audience research figures, the annual General Household survey, and weekly diaries made by more than 2,000 people in 1961, 1975, 1985 and 1995.

Overall, men worked 445 minutes per day in 1961, in paid and unpaid work, and - after controlling for changes in distribution of employment and family status - around 440 minutes per day in 1995. In contrast, women worked 530 minutes in 1961 and 488 minutes in 1995.

"Leisure started the century as the name of a class and ended it as one of consumption," said Professor Gershuny. "For the part of the 20th century for which we have consistent and comprehensive evidence it seems that the optimistic prophecies of 19th- and 20th-century writers is only slowly coming to pass."

The findings show that eating at home occupies only half the time it did two generations ago. And while family sociability has dropped by 45 minutes a day, the time spent with friends has risen by 30 minutes.

The number of people working in hotels, restaurants, pubs and clubs has more than doubled since the 1960s. A similar rise has been seen in those working in entertainment, sport and other recreational activities.

"By the end of the 1990s, British people have decreased their mid-century working hours by 23 minutes per day," Professor Gershuny said. "At a rate of seven extra weekly hours of leisure per century ... there is a long way to go."