Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Under Pressure: Gender Differences in the Relationship between Free Time and Feeling Rushed

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Under Pressure: Gender Differences in the Relationship between Free Time and Feeling Rushed

Article excerpt

Free time has the potential to reduce time pressures, yet previous studies paradoxically report increases in free time concurrent with increases in feeling rushed. Using U.S. time diary data from 708 individuals in 1975 and 964 individuals in 1998, we review the evidence on trends in free time and subjective perceptions of feeling rushed, and reexamine the relationship between free time and time pressure. We find that women's time pressure increased significantly between 1975 and 1998 but men's did not. In addition, the effects of objective time constraints vary by gender. Whereas more free time reduces men's perceptions of feeling rushed at both time points, among women, free time marginally reduced time pressure in 1975 but no longer reduced time pressure in 1998. Our findings suggest that persistent inequality in gendered time-use patterns is paralleled by gendered experiences of time pressure.

Key Words: gender, leisure, time pressure, work and family.

Laments about the 24-hour day being too short to fit everything in are common in the scholarly and popular press. Time considerations increasingly regulate paid and unpaid work activities, as people become efficiency experts at home as well as at work (Hochschild, 1997; Schor, 1991). Many Americans value time more highly than money, and subjective levels of time pressure have increased markedly over the past 30 years (Robinson & Godbey, 1999). Understanding why time pressures have increased is a critical social question because of the association between time pressures and negative physical and psychological outcomes (Rogers & Amato, 2000; Schieman, 1999).

Two explanations for the increase in subjective levels of time pressure have been advanced. On the one hand, the objective explanation posits that greater numbers of people feel rushed because economic and demographic changes in workplaces and families have increased obligatory market and household responsibilities and reduced discretionary free time. The growth of dual-earner and single-parent families means that both women and men are spending more time in paid and unpaid work activities (Jacobs & Gerson, 2004). The increased pace and volume of work associated with global competition and the growth of nonstandard evening and weekend work hours are also related to increased time pressures (Presser, 2003; Schor, 1998).

On the other hand, the cultural explanation posits that the amount of free time has little association with subjective levels of time pressure. Instead, cultural discourses that value action-packed lives coupled with high levels of consumption are to blame for upward spiraling perceptions of feeling rushed (Bourdieu, 1984; Robinson & Godbey, 1999; Schor, 1998). Whereas at the turn of the 20th century, the conspicuous consumption of leisure indicated an upper-class social position (Veblen, 1967), today it is conspicuous devotion to time-intensive productive activities that signifies high social status (Gershuny, 2005). Individuals are also enmeshed in a work-to-spend culture, with long work hours fueling the time and money-demanding quest to experience the latest activity or product (Schor). Normative changes in ideals about good parenting have also ratcheted up pressures on parents to devote unlimited time and resources to their children, thus heightening parental worries that children never get enough time (Milkie, Mattingly, Nomaguchi, Bianchi, & Robinson, 2004). The changing cultural contexts of work, leisure, and parenthood all suggest that objective indicators of time use are increasingly decoupled from subjective feelings of time pressure.

Analyses of time-use data through the early 1990s appear to offer more support for the cultural explanation because of the seeming paradox between increases in free time and concurrent increases in subjective feelings of time pressure. There are good reasons to question this seeming paradox, however. First, the seeming inconsistency between more individuals feeling rushed in a period of burgeoning leisure may be overstated because more recent data indicate that free time declined in the 1990s whereas levels of subjective time pressures continued to increase (Mattingly & Bianchi, 2003; Sayer, 2005). …

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