Study shows people turn to leisure activities in spare time

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If people had a window of opportunity for more time off work, they would spend it on leisure activities rather than efficient actions such as studying or cleaning, according to a new economics study.

Economics professor Daniel Hamermesh co-authored a study examining how people spent their free time after a permanent cut in work hours by reviewing data from national time-use diaries from 1976-2006 in Japan and 1999-2009 in Korea. The study was completed last year and was conducted with UT alumnus Jungmin Lee and associate economic professors from Korea and Japan. Hamermesh said the study used thousands of daily time diaries from before and after the governments of Japan and Korea passed laws making it more costly for employers to use overtime work. The study examined how those keeping diaries spent the time they had free.

Hamermesh said the results showed that people spent their free time engaging in relaxing activities.

“In neither country was the extra time used to clean the house, take care of the kids, cook or shop,” Hamermesh said. “It was used for leisure and/or personal maintenance, such as grooming.”

Hamermesh said he has done much research on time use and finds the study to be a topic that has intrigued people for many years.

“It is very difficult to answer because so many things are happening at once, but this data provides the opportunity to get a clean answer,” Hamermesh said.

Although the study did not include Americans, Hamermesh said he firmly believes that Americans generally work too much and Europeans do much less work but seem happier.

Advertising senior Amanda Cummings, president of the National Society of Collegiate Scholars, said she spends every day studying and is constantly doing something for her organization or taking care of her priorities. However, she said she does separate some time to collect herself after she learned that relaxation is also a key aspect of living life, as the study has shown.

“I would always be busy and would emotionally break down,” Cummings said. “Now, I find it’s important to make free time for yourself.”

Psychology sophomore Ian Bell, an officer of the Longhorn Powerlifting team, said he spends his free time working out in order to stay fit and keep busy. However, Bell said his daily routine includes about an hour of relaxation in order to keep his life balanced, which relates to the study’s conclusion that people do prefer more relaxing activities.

“Without my free time, I wouldn’t be able to work out as much as I would want to,” he said. “If you use your free time efficiently, then you can accomplish more things throughout the day and keep things from piling up.”

An in-depth view of Hamermesh’s study will be published this spring in the American Economic Review Journal.

Printed on Friday, February 10, 2012 as: Leisure takes precedence in spare time, study show