Archive for March 11th, 2007

Are we really short of discretionary time?

Even after all the recent work-family balance hype, I still found this comment from Graham Bell in Mark Bahnisch’s good-bye-for-now-because-I-am-too-busy post jaw-droppingly preposterous:

You have here touched on two aspects of life in 2007’s Australia:

[i] The rapidly worsening lack of discretionary time for so many people now, even for pensioners/retirees and the unemployed.

Gosh, imagine how pressed they might be if they actually had to work for money 40-50 hours a week, plus do all the other things that disproportionately fall to those in paid work, such as raising kids and keeping voluntary organisations going. Even for those who genuinely do have a lot on, there is an important distinction made by Michael Bittman, Robert Goodin and others between discretionary time and free time (pdf).

Discretionary time is what we have left after we’ve done enough to earn money, perform household chores and engage in sufficient personal care (eg sleeping). Admittedly, some of the arguments as to what constitutes enough are contentious; but the overall point is a strong one: because many people choose to do more than the minimum necessary across a range of generally essential activities their free time, the time in which they have no commitments, is much less than their discretionary time. Using a 1992 Australian time use survey, they estimate that discretionary time is two to three times as long as free time.
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