Prevalence of Procrastination in the United States, United Kingdom, and Australia: Arousal and Avoidance Delays among Adults

By Ferrari, Joseph R.; O'Callghan, Jean et al. | North American Journal of Psychology, March-April 2005 | Go to article overview

Prevalence of Procrastination in the United States, United Kingdom, and Australia: Arousal and Avoidance Delays among Adults


Ferrari, Joseph R., O'Callghan, Jean, Newbegin, Ian, North American Journal of Psychology


No systematic study has examined the global prevalence of chronic procrastination--the purposive delay in starting or completing tasks. In the present study, adult samples from the United States (122 women, 85 men), United Kingdom (143 women, 96 men), and Australia (124 women, 90 men) completed reliable and valid self-report measures of arousal procrastination (delays motivated by a "last-minute" thrill experience) and avoidant procrastination (delays related to fears of failure or success). Both men and women from the United Kingdom reported higher rates of arousal and avoidance procrastination compared to adults from the United States and Australia. However, when both procrastination types were separated statistically into "pure types" there were no significant differences across countries: 11.5% of adults self-identified as arousal procrastinators, and 9.9% of adults as avoidant procrastinators. Results indicated that chronic procrastination prevalence is common among westernized, individualistic, English-speaking countries; further epidemiological cross-cultural studies are needed.

It has been estimated that procrastination (i.e., frequent delays in starting and/or completing tasks to deadline: Ferrari, Johnson, & McCown, 1995) is common by around 70% of college students for academic-specific tasks (Ellis & Knaus, 1977), yet as high as 20% among normal adult men and women for everyday, daily life events such as paying bills and planning for personal health issues (Harriott & Ferrari, 1996). While it seems that procrastination rates decrease with age, Ferrari et al. (1995) proposed that these rates reflect different forms of procrastination, with the former an example of situational-specific task delays and the latter indicative of chronic, dispositional delay behavior patterns. That is, college students may engage in delay of studying but not in other aspects of their life (e.g., at part-time jobs or engaging in social events). In contrast, there are persons who frequently, almost chronically engage in task delays as a maladaptive lifestyle (Ferrari et al. 1995; Ferrari & Pychyl, 2000). It is the chronic, frequent delays that are the interest of the present exploratory study.

Two types of chronic procrastination with adverse social implications have been found equally common among U.S. men and women (Ferrari & Pychyl, 2000: Schowuenburg, Lay, Pychyl, & Ferrari, 2004), and more likely reported by "white collar" as compared to "blue collar" workers (Hammer & Ferrari, 2002). One form of chronic delays is arousal procrastination, delays that make a person experience a "high" when rushing to complete tasks. Individuals with this tendency indicate they purposively wait until the last minute in order to engage in hyper-activity as the deadline to the task approaches. Another form of chronic delays is avoidant procrastination, the delay of tasks such that completion would reflect one's abilities. By not completing a task by a specific deadline, the person may claim that poor performance was influenced by lack of effort or greater rates of time pressure instead of lack of personal ability (Ferrari et al., 1995).

People who claim chronic procrastination tendencies are more likely to engage in self-handicapping behaviors (Ferrari, 1991b; Ferrari & Tice, 2000), positive impression management, and avoidance of self-relevant evaluations (Ferrari, 1991d). Empirical studies also report that chronic procrastination is related to a host of other traits, including low states of self-confidence and self-esteem and high states of depression, neurosis, public self-consciousness, social anxiety, forgetfulness, disorganization, non-competitiveness, dysfunctional impulsiveness, behavioral rigidity, and lack of energy (Beswick, Rothblum, & Mann, 1988; Ferrari 1991a, b, 1992, 1993, 1994; Lay, 1986). In short, chronic procrastination is a complex phenomenon involving more than time management difficulty. …

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