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4102.0 - Australian Social Trends, 1999  
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 24/06/1999   
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Contents >> Culture & Leisure >> Recreation: How Australians use their free time

Recreation: How Australians use their free time

In 1997, Australians enjoyed an average of over five hours of free time per day. The most popular free-time activities were watching TV and videos, and socialising and talking.

Most people would agree that having free time to relax, to enjoy the company of friends and family, and to pursue interests beyond their work, family or household commitments (e.g. hobbies, entertainment, sport) is important to their personal wellbeing. However, individual perceptions about what constitutes free time and how it is spent may differ widely. For example, some people see gardening as a chore (and time use surveys generally classify it as a form of unpaid household work) while others see gardening as an absorbing and enjoyable hobby. On the other hand, time use surveys generally classify time spent on religious observance as free time, while some people might view it as committed time (see Types of free-time activities box below). Nevertheless, time use data does provide a useful broad indicator of how much free time Australians have and how they use it.


Time use

Information on time spent on various activities is taken from the 1997 ABS Time Use Survey. Time use data was compiled from a household questionnaire and a 48-hour diary of time use, completed by respondents aged 15 years and over. For each 5-minute time slot in the diary, people could record up to 2 concurrent activities:

main activity refers to the first activity people recorded;

secondary activity refers to the activity recorded in response to the question, ‘What else were you doing at the same time?’

Types of time

The entire day can be divided into the following broad time use categories according to the types of activities recorded as main activities:

necessary time refers to time spent on main activities associated with personal care (e.g. sleeping, eating and personal hygiene);

contracted time refers to time spent on main activities such as paid work and formal education where there are explicit contracts which control the periods of time in which the activities are performed;

committed time refers to time spent on main activities to which a person has committed him/herself through social or community contracts. Includes time spent on family and household responsibilities (e.g. child care, housework, shopping) and unpaid voluntary work; and

free time is the residual category and comprises time spent on all other main activities including religious observance, socialising and a range of activities commonly associated with recreation and leisure (e.g. sports, hobbies, watching TV). See Types of free-time activities box below.

WEEKDAY/WEEKEND TIME USE, 1997

Weekday(a)
Weekend(a)
Total
Types of time
hrs:mins
hrs:mins
hrs:mins

Necessary
10:50
11:41
11:05
Contracted
4:36
1:26
3:41
Committed
3:45
4:12
3:53
Free
4:44
6:37
5:16
    Men
4:48
7:07
5:29
    Women
4:39
6:06
5:04
Total(b)
24:00
24:00
24:00

(a) Daily average for all persons aged 15 years and over.
(b) Includes a small amount of time unable to be classified into a time use category.

Source: Unpublished data, Time Use Survey, 1997.


How much free time do we have?
The amount of free time a person has is largely determined by the nature and extent of other demands on their time such as paid work, education, family and household commitments. ABS time use surveys define free time as the amount of time left in the day after time spent on sleeping, eating, personal care (necessary time); paid work and formal education (contracted time); and family and household responsibilities and unpaid voluntary work (committed time). This classification is based on the main activity undertaken at any time.

In 1997, Australians enjoyed an average of over 5 hours of free time per day - 4hrs:44mins on weekdays and 6hrs:37mins on weekends. Men and women had roughly the same amount of free time on weekdays, but on weekends men averaged an hour more free time per day than women. This is mainly because women undertake a greater share of child care and household work (see Australian Social Trends 1999, 'Looking after the children', and 'How couples share domestic work') which, unlike paid work, does not decrease on weekends.

A person's labour force status is a major determinant of how much free time they have. People who are not engaged in paid work (unemployed or not in the labour force) have more free time than those who work part-time, and those who work part-time have more free time than those employed full-time. While this is true for both men and women, the effect is less marked for women. Women exchange less of their non-contracted time for free time than men do (again reflecting women's greater involvement in committed activities).

Family responsibilities are also an important determinant of how much free time a person has. In 1997, people with dependent children had significantly less free time than people without dependent children. Women with dependent children had an average of 1hr:34mins less free time per day than women without dependent children. Men with dependent children had 1hr:46mins less free time per day than men without dependent children. Parents with young children (youngest under 5 years) had the least free time. The amount of free time available to parents with dependent children gradually increased with the age of their youngest child.

The amount of free time available to people without dependent children is largely a function of their labour force participation, household responsibilities and, to a lesser extent, family responsibilities. Those aged 25-54 years had the least free time, reflecting high labour force participation for both men and women, some family commitments (since most have partners) and substantial household commitments. Despite their relatively high rates of participation in formal education, younger people (aged 15-24 years) without dependent children had more free time than 25-54 year olds. This reflects the younger group's relatively low participation in full-time employment, and fewer household responsibilities, since a relatively high proportion are still single and live with their parents. At the other end of the age spectrum, people aged 65 and over (without dependent children) had the most free time, due to their having very few work or family commitments.

Women have less free time than men regardless of age, employment status or family responsibilities. However, the difference between men and women is much less among those groups with the least free time (parents with dependent children under 15 and people in full-time employment).


Free - time activities

Main free-time activities refers to the first or only free-time activity recorded in each time slot of the time use diary. (See Time use box above.) For any person, the total amount of time spent on main free-time activities is equal to their total amount of free time.

Secondary free-time activities were done at the same time as some other main activity. Secondary free-time activities may have been combined with a main free-time activity (in free time) or a different type of main activity such as work, child care or eating (not in free time).

All free-time activities comprise main free-time activities plus secondary free-time activities. For most people, time spent on all free-time activities is greater than their total amount of free time.

FREE TIME AND FREE-TIME ACTIVITIES, 1997

Average(a) daily free time(b)
Average(a) daily time spent on all free-time activities(c)


Men
Women
Men
Women
hrs:mins
hrs:mins
hrs:mins
hrs:mins

Selected life stages
    People with dependent children
4:15
4:03
7:59
7:42
    Youngest child under 5 years
3:55
3:43
7:32
6:48
    Youngest child 5-14 years
4:16
4:09
8:06
8:02
    Youngest child 15-24 years(d)
5:05
4:41
8:46
9:12
    People without dependent children
6:01
5:37
9:45
9:59
    15-24 years
6:22
5:26
10:12
10:06
    25-54 years
5:11
4:44
9:06
9:21
    55-64 years
6:06
5:54
9:59
10:13
    65 years and over
7:22
7:00
10:21
10:43
Labour force status
    Employed full-time
4:23
4:00
8:16
8:13
    Employed part-time
5:52
4:35
9:40
8:48
    Not employed(e)
7:23
5:53
10:46
9:53
Total persons
5:29
5:04
9:12
9:11

(a) Daily average for all persons aged 15 years and over.
(b) Time spent on main free-time activities.
(c) Time spent on main free-time activities plus secondary free-time activities.
(d) Refers to full-time students (who are neither parents nor partners) living with their parents.
(e) Unemployed plus persons not in the labour force.

Source: Unpublished data, Time Use Survey, 1997


Free time and free-time activities
The amount of free time available has an important influence on how much time a person can spend on recreation, leisure and other free-time activities. However, people frequently undertake more than one activity at the same time (e.g. socialising while playing tennis, watching TV while looking after children, or listening to the radio while travelling to work). Consequently, for most people, the total amount of time spent on all free-time activities is greater than their total amount of free time (time spent on main free-time activities). In 1997, people spent an average of 9hrs:11mins per day on free-time activities - 3hrs:55mins (74%) more than their available free time.

Women are more likely than men to do more than one thing at a time (or at least to report having done so). Consequently, they managed to spend about the same amount of time, on average, as men on free-time activities even though they had 25 minutes less free time per day. In general people who had less free time, spent proportionally more time on secondary free-time activities. For example, people in full-time employment spent 94% more than their available free time on free-time activities, while people who were not employed spent 59% more.

Some free-time activities were more often undertaken as secondary activities than main activities. For example, Australians spent an average of 2hrs:7mins per day socialising or talking but only 47 minutes per day as a main activity. They also spent an average of 1hr:20mins per day listening to radio, records, tapes or CDs but only 8 minutes per day as a main activity. Watching TV or videos as a secondary activity also contributed significantly (44 minutes per day) to the total time spent watching TV or videos.

AVERAGE(a) DAILY TIME SPENT ON FREE-TIME ACTIVITIES, 1997

Main activity
All activities(b)


Average daily time
Average daily time
Participation rate(c)
Free-time activities
hrs:mins
hrs:mins
%

Watching TV/videos
2:01
2:45
87.6
Socialising/talking (including phone)
0:47
2:07
74.7
Listening to radio/records/tapes/CDs
0:08
1:20
56.9
Reading
0:25
0:36
48.0
Sport and outdoor activities
0:27
0:28
27.1
Games/hobbies/arts/crafts
0:16
0:20
19.6
Resting/relaxing/doing nothing
0:13
0:16
21.2
Attending entertainment/sports events
0:07
0:07
5.8
Other
0:53
1:11
68.1
Total
5:16
9:11
99.4

a) Daily average for all persons aged 15 years and over.
(b) Main free-time activities plus secondary free-time activities.
(c) The number of people who reported taking part in an activity over a two-day period, expressed as a percentage of the population aged 15 years and over.

Source: Unpublished data, Time Use Survey, 1997.


Types of free - time activities

For the purposes of this article, free-time activities were aggregated into the following groups:
  • Socialising/talking (including phone) - includes entertaining guests at home, meeting others away from home, conversations about social/recreational activities, and all general conversation;
  • Attending entertainment/sports events - includes attendance at movies/cinema, theatre, concert, library, museum, zoo/botanic garden, amusement park, sports, racing and other mass events;
  • Watching TV/videos - includes listening;
  • Listening to radio/records/tapes/CDs;
  • Reading - includes books, CD-ROM, newspapers, magazines, brochures, etc. Excludes letters. Excludes reading for study/research purposes;
  • Resting/relaxing/doing nothing - includes dozing, staying in bed or going back to bed;
  • Sport and outdoor activities - includes participation in organised or informal sport, exercising, walking, hiking/bushwalking, fishing, holiday travel/driving for pleasure, camping, spending time in an outdoor setting. Excludes gardening;
  • Games/hobbies/arts/crafts - includes cards, board games, puzzles, computer games, arcade games, gambling, arts (e.g. painting drawing, writing, composing, performing), collecting, handwork and crafts such as sewing, knitting (excluding clothing), wood and metal work (excluding furniture and home repairs), spinning, weaving, etc; and
  • Other - includes religious activities such as prayer (alone or with others), attending church services, wedding/funeral/christening ceremonies; community participation (e.g. community meetings); attendance at recreational courses (e.g. art/craft/hobby courses, do-it-yourself courses, personal development courses); and other activities such as thinking and worrying.


Most popular free-time activities
Australians prefer the more leisurely free-time pursuits such as watching TV, talking, socialising, listening to the radio and reading. The 1997 Time Use Survey found that 88% of the population spent some time watching TV or videos during the two-day reference period, 75% spent some time socialising or talking, 57% listened to the radio, records, tapes or CDs, and 48% spent some time reading. Only 27% participated in sports or outdoor activities and only 6% attended an entertainment or sports event. However, because of the relatively short reference period (two days), participation rates for some activities, particularly those which are undertaken infrequently, are likely to be lower than participation rates derived from other surveys using longer reference periods (e.g. two weeks or longer).

Australians spent more time watching TV and videos (2hrs:45mins per day) than on any other free-time activity. They spent 2hrs:7mins per day talking and socialising, 1hr:20mins listening to the radio, records, tapes or CDs, and 36 mins per day reading. On average, women spent more time than men socialising and talking (27 minutes more per day). Men spent more time than women on sports and outdoor activities (14 minutes more per day) and watching TV and videos (8 minutes more per day).

AVERAGE DAILY TIME(a) SPENT ON ALL FREE-TIME ACTIVITIES(b) FOR SELECTED LIFE STAGES, 1997

With dependent children
Without dependent children, and aged 15-24 years
Without dependent children, and aged 65 years and over



Average daily time spent
Participation rate(c)
Average daily time spent
Participation rate(c)
Average daily time spent
Participation rate(c)
Free-time activities
hrs:mins
%
hrs:mins
%
hrs:mins
%

Watching TV/videos
2:17
85.6
2:47
86.0
3:40
93.6
Socialising/talking (including phone)
2:06
78.7
2:35
76.0
1:36
68.4
Listening to radio/records/tapes/CDs
1:10
56.2
1:12
52.7
1:29
56.5
Reading
0:28
45.5
0:22
33.0
1:10
67.1
Sport and outdoor activities
0:21
23.2
0:37
31.5
0:30
30.0
Games/hobbies/arts/crafts
0:12
14.5
0:26
24.8
0:35
29.2
Resting/relaxing/doing nothing
0:13
19.4
0:12
15.1
0:34
35.7
Attending entertainment/sports events
0:06
5.1
0:12
8.8
0:05
4.5
Other
0:56
64.7
1:48
79.2
0:54
60.5
Total
7:50
99.1
10:09
99.7
10:33
99.9

(a) Daily average for all persons aged 15 years and over.
(b) Main free-time activities plus secondary free-time activities.
(c) For any group, the number of people who reported taking part in an activity over a two-day period, expressed as a percentage of the population in the same group.

Source: Unpublished data, Time Use Survey, 1997.


Life stage and free-time activities
Regardless of life stage, the most popular free-time activities are watching TV and videos, talking and socialising, and listening to the radio, records, tapes or CDs (in that order). However there are differences between life-stage groups in the amount of time spent on various free-time activities. For example, older people (aged 65 years and over) without dependent children spend more time than other life-stage groups on most free-time activities, particularly watching TV and videos, and reading. In 1997, they spent an average of 3hrs:40mins per day watching TV and videos, 53 minutes more than young people (aged 15-24) without dependent children, and 1hr:23mins more than parents with dependent children. Older people without dependent children spent an average of 1hr:10mins per day reading, three times more than young people without dependent children (who spent less time reading, other than for study or research, than any other life-stage group). Older people also spent the most time on resting, relaxing, doing nothing; games, hobbies, arts, crafts; and listening to the radio, records, tapes or CDs. On the other hand, they spent the least time talking and socialising, an average of 1hr:36mins per day. This is because a relatively large proportion of older people live alone, and those who do, spend more time alone than any other life-stage group (see Australian Social Trends 1999, Spending time alone).

In contrast, young people without dependent children spent the most time socialising and talking, an average of 2hrs:35mins per day. They also spent more time than other life-stage groups on sport and outdoor activities (an average of 37 minutes per day) and attending entertainment and sports events (an average of 12 minutes per day).

Parents with dependent children spent the least time watching TV and videos (an average of 2hrs:17mins per day), sport and outdoor activities (21 minutes per day) and games, hobbies, arts and crafts (12 minutes per day). They also spent the least time on free-time activities overall.

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