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Time Use

Major Trends In Time Use In Families

Although the way that families allocate their time to various activities is subject to multiple measurement challenges, several key trends offer insight into the way time is used in North American families.

Paid work. Based on U.S. data, the overall employment rate for married women between the ages of sixteen and sixty-four has risen from three out of ten in 1960 to six out of ten in 1997. For married men, there has been a decline from 90 percent in 1960 to 78 percent in 1997 (Teachman, Tedrow, and Crowder 2000). Sixty-four percent of women with children under the age of six and 78 percent of women with children between the ages six and seventeen were employed. ( Jenkins, Repetti, and Crouter 2000).

In spite of the dramatic increase in the number of women in the paid labor force, men spend more time in paid work than do women. According to the most recent time diary data (collected in 1985), employed men spend an average of forty hours per week in paid work compared to just over thirty hours for women (Robinson and Godbey 1997).

Unpaid work. When all unpaid activities in the home are taken together, women appear to devote twice as much time as men (Robinson and Godbey 1997). When the focus is on childcare activities only, significant disparities remain, but the overall trend is toward convergence. Based on an extensive review of the parental involvement literature, Pleck (1997) reports that whereas men spent only about one-third the amount of time that women did being engaged with their children in the 1960s and 1970s, that figure has risen to approximately 44 percent in the 1990s. Furthermore, as higher numbers of women continue with paid employment after having children, women are doing less housework, and men are doing slightly more (Coltrane 2000).

Leisure time. In general, women have less leisure time than men (Robinson and Godbey 1997). However, employment status is an important factor. In a national study of time use in Canada, full-time employed married mothers and full-time employed single mothers have the least amount of leisure time (3.6 hours a day each). By comparison, mothers who worked part-time had 4.5 hours a day, and nonemployed mothers had 5.0 hours a day. Full-time employed fathers (25–44) have more leisure (4.2 hours per day) than full-time employed mothers or single mothers (3.6 hours each) but less than mothers who work part-time (4.5 hours per day) or nonemployed mothers (5.0 hours per day) (Statistics Canada 1999).

Family time. A national survey of the changing workforce in the United States indicates that 70 percent of employed mothers and fathers feel that they do not have enough time to spend with their children (Bond, Galinsky, and Swanberg 1998). Among Canadians, the 1998 General Social Survey indicates that approximately eight out of ten full-time employed married women and men with at least one child at home felt that weekdays were too short to accomplish what they wanted to do, with more than one-half indicating that they would want to spend more time with their family and friends if they had more time (Statistics Canada 1999). By contrast, a recent study indicates that children are much less likely to report having too little time with their parents—approximately 30 percent (Galinsky 1999). In spite of parents' desire to spend more time with their families, indications are that parents are spending as much or slightly more time with their children compared to twenty years ago (Bond et al. 1998).

Children's use of time. Based on U.S. national data collected in 1997, 55 percent of an average child's week was spent eating, sleeping, or in personal care (Hofferth and Sandberg 2001). Fifteen percent of their time was spent in school or day care. The remaining 30 percent of the child's time was discretionary. Of this discretionary time, 29 percent was used for free play, 24 percent for television viewing, and 18 percent in structured activities. The remainder of their time was used for art or educationrelated activities, housework, or conversation.


Bond, James T.; Galinsky, E.; and Swanberg, J. E. (1998). The 1997 National Study of the Changing Workforce. New York: The Families and Work Institute.

Coltrane, S. (2000). "Research on Household Labour: Modeling and Measuring the Social Embeddedness of Routine Family Work." Journal of Marriage and the Family. 62:1208–1233.

Daly, K. J. (1996). Families and Time: Keeping Pace in a Hurried Culture. Thousand Oaks CA: Sage.

Galinsky, E. (1999). Ask the Children: What America's Children Really Think about Working Parents. New York: William Morrow.

Gillis, J. (1996). A World of Their Own Making: Myth, Ritual and the Quest for Family Values. New York: Basic Books.

Jacobs, J. and Gerson, K. (1998). "Who Are the Over-worked Americans?" Review of Social Economy 4:442–459.

Hofferth, S. L., and Sandberg, J. F. (2001). "How American Children Spend their Time." Journal of Marriage and the Family. 63:295–308.

Levine, R. V. (1988). "The Pace of Life Across Cultures." In The Social Psychology of Time: New Perspectives, ed. J. E. McGrath. Newbury Park CA: Sage.

Perry-Jenkins, M.: Repetti, R. L.: and Crouter, A. (2000). "Work and Family in the 1990's." Journal of Marriage and the Family 62:981–998.

Pleck, J. (1997). "Paternal Involvement: Levels, Sources, and Consequences." In The Role of the Father in Child Development, ed. M. E. Lamb. New York: John Wiley and Sons.

Robinson, J. P., and Godbey, G. (1997). Time for Life: The Surprising Ways Americans Use Their Time. University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University Press.

Statistics Canada. (1999). Overview of the Time Use of Canadians in 1998. Ottawa. Catalogue no. 12F0080XIE.

Teachman, J. D.; Tedrow, L. M.; and Crowder, K. D. (2000). "The Changing Demography of America's Families." Journal of Marriage and the Family 62:1234–1246.

Whitrow, G. J. (1988). Time in History. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaFamily Theory & Types of FamiliesTime Use - Conceptions Of Time In Families, Major Trends In Time Use In Families