1370.0 - Measures of Australia's Progress, 2004  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 21/04/2004   
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Contents >> The measures >> Culture and leisure

People can benefit in many ways from participation in cultural and recreational activities. Leisure time gives people an opportunity to recover from pressures of work and other commitments, to bond with friends and family, to pursue their interests, and to reflect on their life's direction and meaning. And 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.

The ABS recognises the importance of this aspect of progress. But 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 sometimes considered an improvement in the quality of life, but this is not necessarily the case. 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. 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.
  • 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.

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 Financial hardship. Some of the barriers to accessing facilities are considered in the Transport and Communication commentaries.

The Family, community and social cohesion 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, Financial hardship, and Family, community and social cohesion.

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