The Australian Bureau of Statistics has released its first time use survey in 15 years. The last time she collected such data, in 2006, Apple hadn’t released the iPhone yet and Facebook was a startup.
So much has changed, although the differences in time use between men and women have not changed as much as many would like.
The new survey suggests that we spend an average of 4 hours 23 minutes a day watching video, listening to audio, or doing any other activity involving a computer or portable device.
The average full-time worker spent 8 hours and 44 minutes a day on job-related activities. But we get about the same amount of sleep – around 8.5 hours on average for men and women.
The survey suggests a slight reduction in gender differences – but with domestic and care responsibilities still predominantly borne by women.
However, caution is needed in interpreting these new results. The data was collected from 2,000 households between November 2020 and July 2021. The times indicated therefore reflect the COVID-19 pandemic, with closed borders, restrictions and confinements. These were not “normal” times.
Comparisons with past data (from 2006, 1997, 1992 and the 1987 pilot study) are further complicated by the desktop Attention the new figures “are not fully comparable to previous collections due to changes in methodology”.
With that in mind, let’s take a look.
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How we use our time
Our first graph shows how men and women, on average, spend their days.
Necessary activities are things like sleeping, eating, and self-care. Contracted activities are things such as paid work and education. The activities engaged in cover unpaid household work, child care, adult care and voluntary work. Free time means exactly that.
These times add up to more than 24 hours. This is because many people spend part of their day doing two things at once. For example, at work, in the car, or having lunch (what the office calls a “main” activity), they may listen to the radio (a “secondary” activity).
Nonetheless, they provide a useful snapshot – with men spending more time in paid work and women more time in unpaid work.
when we work
Most of us who work do so during normal business or trading hours. But around a tenth of all workers were working between 8pm and 10pm at the time of the survey – either because they were shift workers or due to overtime (paid or unpaid).
Time spent on household chores
On average, women spent 3 hours 22 minutes per day on household chores, compared to 2 hours 19 minutes for men. (Childcare responsibilities were on top of that – an average of 1 hour 26 minutes for women, 40 minutes for men.)
The time use survey also reports on these activities by participation rate and average time spent by those undertaking such activities.
The percentage of men reporting performing domestic activities was 84%, compared to 94% for women. The participation gaps are particularly pronounced in housework (72% of women against 44% of men) and cooking (77% of women against 56% of men).
Among those who report practicing these activities, women devote an average of 3 hours 36 minutes to them compared to an average of 2 hours 46 minutes for men.
How we use our free time
In its 2006 survey, the ABS reported five main categories for how people spend their free time: sports and other outdoor activities; games, hobbies, arts and crafts; speak, write or read correspondence; using audiovisual media; and “other” activities.
This survey has updated procedures to provide greater clarity around our growing consumption of various types of media – recording time for listening to music and podcasts; games and puzzles; video games; and general internet and device usage.
feel under pressure
It is perhaps unsurprising that more women than men reported feeling “rushed or pressed for time.” These stresses were particularly common among parents with children at home.
Reducing the gender gap in household chores
Although the comparison with past surveys is complicated for the reasons mentioned, the differences between the sexes seem to have diminished, with men carrying out a little more household chores.
This is consistent with international studies to suggest “some signs of convergence between the sexes, with a general decrease in women’s household chores…and an increase in men’s household chores and childcare”.
However, with comparisons to previous years blurred by the pandemic and changes to coding procedures, we will have to wait for the next time use survey to get a clearer picture. Hopefully it won’t be 15 years.