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How do we spend our time compared to people 30 or 50 years ago? What impact has this had on our health, wealth and wellbeing? The Centre for Time Use Research has some surprising answers.

Canary wharf Canary Wharf by Pantxorama CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Life is speeding up. We all feel busier than ever. If we went back a generation, surely we would find that people’s lives were less busy? Perhaps surprisingly, research by Professor Jonathan Gershuny at the Centre for Time Use Research shows that we are no busier now than we were thirty years ago.

We can tell this by looking at time-use diaries in which people from different times and places have recorded the detail of their ordinary daily lives. The Centre for Time Use Research has amassed a huge collection of these diaries. There are hundreds of thousands of pages of data, going back 55 years. Many of the diaries record exactly how long people spent doing paid work, or unpaid work such as housework or childcare.

By studying the records, Professor Gershuny and other researchers have established beyond doubt that the total number of hours spent on paid and unpaid work has changed very little in thirty years. People say that they feel busier nowadays, but the data contradicts this. And on the basis of the diary evidence, those people who report themselves as ‘always busy’ are not on average the busiest group.

The fact that these diaries describe how people self-report their activity levels across time is particularly valuable to healthcare and wellbeing professionals. The Centre for Time Use Research are now developing a pilot scheme – funded in part by The British Heart Foundation –  which will explore how to improve advice on recommended levels of physical activity. However, the data has the potential to inform areas such as the gender gap, the influence of technology on society, and comparisons between wellbeing in different countries – to name a few.

Want to find out more about this research?

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