Academic journal article Brookings Papers on Economic Activity

Are We Having More Fun Yet? Categorizing and Evaluating Changes in Time Allocation

Academic journal article Brookings Papers on Economic Activity

Are We Having More Fun Yet? Categorizing and Evaluating Changes in Time Allocation

Article excerpt

ARE AMERICANS SPENDING THEIR time in more or less enjoyable ways today than in earlier generations? The answer to this question is central for understanding economic and social progress yet has been elusive and controversial. From 1965-66 to 2005, for example, working-age American women increased the amount of time spent working for pay, watching television, and caring for adults while they reduced the amount of time spent cooking, cleaning, entertaining friends, and reading books. Do these shifts imply that women are better off or worse off?

Gary Becker and Reuben Gronau provided the modern economic framework for modeling time allocation among market work, home production, and leisure. (1) More recently, Valerie Ramey and Neville Francis, and Mark Aguiar and Erik Hurst, have made thorough attempts to apportion historical time-use data into these categories. (2) These studies are controversial and reach conflicting conclusions, however, in part because external judgments were used to classify activities into home production, leisure, and market work. (3) Would the average person classify gardening, for example, as leisure or home production? Another problem is that it is unclear how to trade off shifts in time allocation across categories, or within them, when it comes to evaluating individuals' welfare. Not all leisure activities are equally enjoyable, nor are all home production tasks equally taxing.

This paper provides two alternatives to the traditional work, home production, and leisure breakdown for evaluating welfare changes associated with trends in time allocation. The first method assigns activities to categories based on six dimensions of participants' reported affective experiences (feeling interested, stressed, happy, sad, pain, and tired) during various activities. The second makes use of the U-index, a measure of the percentage of time spent in an unpleasant state, defined as an episode in which the strongest emotion is a negative one. The U-index is computed for each of seventy-two activities in 2006, using an activity coding scheme that can be applied to historical time-use data (harmonized activities) and assigned to past data from 1965 to 2005 to summarize trends in time allocation. Both analyses make extensive use of the Princeton Affect and Time Survey (PATS), a national survey of time use and affective experience. The PATS, like other diary-based measures, probably yields a more accurate measure of affective experience than do questions about general enjoyment with particular activities. (4)

The methods presented here have three principal advantages over previous categorizations of time used by economists and sociologists. First, the categories are based on subjects' reported experiences, not researchers' judgments. Second, different types of leisure and home production activities are assigned to distinct categories if they are associated with different feelings and therefore represent distinct experiences. Third, the classification scheme is based on multiple aspects of affective experience, not a unidimensional measure of enjoyment as in Thomas Juster's landmark study. (5)

The main substantive findings are that the share of time devoted to "mundane chores" such as ironing has decreased over the last four decades, while time spent on "neutral downtime" activities, such as watching television, has increased. On net, however, there have not been major shifts in time allocation toward more or less unpleasant activities for men and women combined. Men have experienced a gradual downward trend in the proportion of time spent in unpleasant activities as measured by the U-index; for women there is no detectable trend in the U-index despite significant changes in underlying time allocation.

The next section describes the PATS data in more detail. The two sections that follow describe and implement a method for classifying activities into six distinct categories and then use these categories to summarize trends in time allocation since the mid-1960s. …

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