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How we spend our time

Oct. 1, 2008

KALAMAZOO--An economics professor at Western Michigan University has taken recent campus lectures on how we spend our time and compiled them into a new book.

"How Do We Spend Our Time? Evidence from the American Time Use Survey" has been published by the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research. It was edited by Dr. Jean Kimmel from lectures delivered during the 2006-07 Werner Sichel Lecture-Seminar Series.

Economists have long been interested in analyzing how people spend their time. Up until recently, however, studies of this nature were limited by a lack of high-quality, time-use data. In 2003, after years of study and preparation, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics initiated the annual, American Time Use Survey. Respondents reported how they spent their time in 15-minute intervals, with whom and where.

Using these detailed data, economists in the book open a window on how Americans spend their time and afford the opportunity to gain a better understanding of everyday life. Presenting their lectures in written form, the book is one of the first to give an economic analysis based on ATUS data.

"The survey has just been a godsend for economists and sociologists, and there's just been a ton of research looking at how people spend their time and what the implications are of time use," Kimmel says.

In addition to editing the text, Kimmel wrote the introduction for the book, which is divided into six chapters, one for each speaker in the Sichel Series. The authors came to the WMU campus to deliver their public lecture.

Chapter subjects and authors

"The Time of Their Lives" by Dr. Daniel S. Hamermesh, a renowned labor economist from the University of Texas at Austin, gives a broad look at the importance of time-use study and finds Americans work more time for pay than other developed nations. He also finds men and women work the same amount of hours when both paid and unpaid work hours in the home are totaled; however, women who work full time jobs still work more hours than men who work full time when both paid and unpaid hours are totaled. Additionally, higher income earners get less sleep, but can spend more leisure time with their spouses than lower income earners.

"The Value of Unpaid Child Care in the United States in 2003" by Dr. Nancy Folbre and Jayoung Yoon of the University of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, looks at care giving as an economic activity. By assigning a dollar value to care giving, they find that for married women with children under 12, the value of care giving is actually greater than those mothers' market earnings.

"Does Housework Continue to Narrow the Income Gap? The Impact of American Housework on Economic Inequality over Time" by Drs. Cathleen D. Zick of the University of Utah and W. Keith Bryant of Cornell University examines the value of unpaid, household work. They find there has been a growth in the value of unpaid household production, but the growth in the value over time has been greater for higher income households than lower income households, resulting in a wider inequality.

"Household Production, Consumption and Retirement" by Dr. Jennifer Ward-Batts of Wayne State University looks at retirees and household production. She finds not only do retirees consume less, but the decrease in consumption is cushioned somewhat by an increase in home-produced goods, such as eating more meals at home.

"The Time Use of Nonworking Men" by Dr. Jay Stewart of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics gives insight into the activities of the growing number of prime-aged men who have left the workforce. He finds that instead of these men doing more unpaid work, they instead sleep more and watch much more television than working men.

"Day, Evening and Night Workers: A Comparison of What They Do in Their Nonwork Hours and with Whom They Interact" by Dr. Anne Polivka of U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics delves into the lives of the 20 percent of people who work nights and weekends. She finds they sleep a little more, exercise about the same, watch more TV, but spend much less time socializing with family and friends.

Kimmel now is working on a book with Dr. Rachel Connelly of Bowdoin College on maternal time use and how mothers' maternal time affects their other activities.

More information, including how to purchase the book, is available at the W.E. Upjohn Institute Web site at www.upjohninst.org.

Media contact: Mark Schwerin, (269) 387-8400, mark.schwerin@wmich.edu

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