How time is best spent has been the subject of an active public debate in recent years, and this question has been thrown still further into the limelight by the disruptions of the coronavirus pandemic.
This report from Resolution Foundation and funded by Trust for London brings new evidence to bear on the important question of how we spend our days. It seeks to broaden the time use debate and ground it in the lived experience and preferences of different groups today.
It builds on the first report on time use (January 2020), which found that an unerring focus on falling average working hours leads to partial (and very male-oriented, since women’s hours have increased) conclusions.
This report takes a broader view, looking at how time is allocated to paid and unpaid work as well as leisure, and how this has changed over a 40-year period.
- Paid work occupies a relatively small share of our days, especially for women and those in lower-paid work.
- Over the last 40 years, time schedules have converged for men and women, but diverged for higher- and lower- income households.
- Despite falling average hours of paid work, most enjoy less leisure time than in the past.
- The desire to reduce hours of paid work is not universal, but balance and control are highly prized.
- Time use policy should be guided by four key principles.
First, helping those with high hours strike a better work-life balance remains important. But second, this must be complemented by action to ensure that those at the lower end of the income distribution can secure sufficient work to enjoy a decent standard of living and the sense of purpose that work can bring. Third, people should have more control over the amount and timing of paid work, control which can be meaningfully exercised within all jobs rather than just a choice few. And fourth, while the redistribution of paid and unpaid work between men and women over time is to be welcomed, the distance that remains to be travelled on this score must be kept in mind.
- Concerted effort is required to move time use debates forward in a sensible way.