People need time to participate in cultural and recreational activities. Also, expression of identity through, say, the arts and sport gives greater meaning to individual, community and national life. Time spent on such activities is an important part of the quality of life in Australia.
Although the ABS recognises the importance of this aspect of progress, it has proved difficult to find an indicator for culture and leisure that has not already been used to assess the other dimensions of progress presented in this publication.
At the simplest level, one might say that assessing progress in culture and leisure should involve measuring how much free time people have and, perhaps also, how well they use it. But this approach is fraught with difficulties.
- Lack of free time is one barrier to participating in cultural and leisure activities. But the quantity of free time available to Australians is an ambiguous indicator of improved wellbeing, because for different people leisure may be voluntary or involuntary. An increase in the amount of free time is often considered an improvement in the quality of life. It has been argued that some Australians find their work so stimulating that they choose to spend more time working, or perhaps choose to work harder so that they can afford what they feel is a better quality of leisure time. Others may work longer hours, possibly taking on a second job, to invest for future leisure and recreation. Other people are unemployed or are able to find only part-time jobs when they would prefer full-time jobs - they involuntarily have more free time than they would prefer.
Barriers to participating in culture and leisure - shortage of time, money or access to facilities - are less ambiguous indicators. Many are covered elsewhere in this publication. The time barrier is discussed in the commentary Work: Looking more closely which considers the people working 50 hours or more a week. The financial barriers are considered in the commentaries National income and Economic disadvantage and inequality. Some of the barriers to access are considered in the Communication and transport commentary.
The Social attachment commentary also discusses some aspects of culture and leisure, such as Australians' attendance at live performances and sporting venues.
See the commentaries Work, National income, Economic disadvantage and inequality, and Social attachment.
- Moreover, Australians spend their free time in a very diverse range of activities. Assessing the relative value of those different activities is very subjective, since different activities are specific to individuals and those with whom they interact - is watching television with the family more or less valuable than attending the theatre alone, for example? - and it does not lend itself readily to statistical treatment.