Sleep to 11.30, down the DIY, a pint, lunch and telly. And that's just <i>her</i> Sunday...

Men and women are spending leisure time in increasingly similar ways, reports Sophie Goodchild
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The Independent Online

Once, it was the day when wives spent hours slaving over the roast while their husbands went to the pub or played football. But now the shape of Sunday has changed beyond all recognition, with women just as likely to be out drinking or visiting friends as men.

Once, it was the day when wives spent hours slaving over the roast while their husbands went to the pub or played football. But now the shape of Sunday has changed beyond all recognition, with women just as likely to be out drinking or visiting friends as men.

A major study published today on people's lifestyles looks for the first time at how the way men and women across the nation spend their work and leisure time, especially on Sundays, compares with 40 years ago.

Based on the "time" diaries of more than 12,000 people, revealing findings from the Institute for Social and Economic Research (ISER) show how the sleep, eating, shopping and work patterns of men and women are now strikingly similar.

The British obsession with shopping and Sunday opening hours has helped to narrow the gap between the sexes. Now, more than 40 per cent of couples stay in bed on Sundays until 11.30am, then get straight into their cars and head for the nearest supermarket or DIY superstore together.

In the past, husbands and fathers would have spent the morning doing work around the family home, although their share of the chores would have been considerably less than a woman's.

Although women still do more housework on a Sunday compared with men, they take less time doing it than they used to. Instead, women spend similar amounts of time to men going to the cinema or visiting friends - in dramatic contrast to their mothers, whose leisure time was strictly confined to Sunday afternoons.

The ISER research shows that the number of men carrying out paid work at peak times during the day has fallen from more than 80 per cent in 1961 to just under 70 per cent. The reverse is true for women: nearly half work a nine-to-five day, compared with less than a third 40 years ago. This means that where women once had set mealtimes - and most always ate at home - they now share almost identical habits with men, "grazing" throughout the day on pre-prepared snacks.

This increasing equality in the way men and women live their lives demonstrates that their roles are becoming blurred. This has brought some positive benefits for women, such as greater access to jobs and a reduction in the burden of childcare.

The research was carried out by Professor Jonathan Gershuny, the director of the ISER and professor of sociology at the University of Essex, who looked at men and women between the ages of 25 to 44. He found that today's Britons tend to occupy "the same space", such as offices, bars, gyms and shops. In contrast, their parents often had segregated roles.

"It used to be socially unacceptable for women to go to the pub on their own, and they would spend their leisure time visiting family," said Professor Gershuny. "But women are adopting male leisure activities and increasingly occupy the same space as men."

However, he warned that there was still a distance to go before the sexes spend equal amounts of time on housework, childcare and doing paid work.

"Men and women were pretty much different species [in 1961]," he said. "Now they look at least as if they are related. But there is still a substantial amount of difference in the amount of unpaid work that men and women do."

The ISER portrait of Britain is drawn from more than a quarter of a million diary days charting how people spend their time.

Additional reporting by Aline Nassif

THE WAY WE WERE

Susan Coombe, 66, from Coulsdon in Surrey, recalls a typical Sixties Sunday.

6am We woke up early. I fed the baby, while my husband had to lay the coal fire - our main heating supply.

8am Breakfast (scrambled eggs) at the kitchen table.

11am Morning church service.

1pm Lunch, sometimes at my parents' house, or my mother and in-laws might come to us. It was always a roast and washing up afterwards took a long time.

4.30pm Afternoon tea.

6pm Bathed the baby and handwashed her nappies - buckets everywhere, as we had no washing machine.

8pm I cooked a light supper.

9pm Game of Scrabble, or we might listen to the radio.

10.30pm To bed.

THE WAY WE LIVE NOW

Edwina Marrow, 42, Susan's daughter, describes her Sunday in 2005.

9am We have breakfast as a family, if the children haven't helped themselves first.

9.30am to 11am My husband drives our eldest son to cricket or mini rugby.

1pm Sunday lunch is very flexible - often a salad, or we might go out for a pizza.

3pm We go shopping, or stay in and watch a film. Or I might indulge in my DIY hobby.

5.30pm Children playing computer games.

8.30pm Light supper in the kitchen, TV on in background.

11pm Read or watch TV.

12am to 1am To bed.

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