10:33am Sunday 05 April 2020

Single mums are the most time poor: study

The study, led by Professor Bob Goodin from the University’s Research School of Social Sciences, measured how much time people strictly need to spend on various activities of daily life, distinguishing between acts of choice and necessity.

With his colleagues James Rice, Antti Parpo and Lina Eriksson, Professor Goodin has developed the concept of ‘discretionary time’. The concept specifies how much time people strictly need to spend in each of those sorts of activities. What’s left over is called ‘discretionary time’.

“When the calculations are performed according to this time measurement, single mothers in Australia had around 60 hours of ‘discretionary time’ per week, in contrast to 87 hours for women with a duel income and no kids,” said Professor Goodin. “In other words, single mothers are 27 hours a week worse off, in terms of control over their time, than people with two incomes and no children.”

Professor Goodin added that the different findings from previous studies highlighted problems in the way that information about people’s spare time was assessed.

“Ordinary time-use studies fail to make the distinction between people who are working long hours because they have to, and people who are working long hours because they choose to. The studies simply count up how many hours a day people spend in paid labour; in unpaid household labour such as shopping and cooking, cleaning, taking care of the kids; and in personal care like eating and sleeping.

“In these studies, how much ’spare time’ people are said to have refers to how much time they have left over after deducting time actually spent in those three broad classes of activities.”

According to these measures, a person in a dual income household without children and a lone mother would appear to be equally ‘time-poor’. But Professor Goodin suggests that they lie at the very opposite ends of the spectrum.
“To pull those cases apart, what we require is a measure – not of how much time people actually spend on various activities– but rather of how much time they need to spend in these activities. After all, lots of people spend more time than strictly necessary when cooking for fun, keeping the house tidy and lounging in bed, just as lots of people spend more time than the minimum necessary in paid labour.”

Professor Goodin is urging social researchers and policy makers to review current time-use research data and adopt instead a methodology that is sensitive to the difference between choice and necessity.

Contacts: For interviews: Professor Bob Goodin – 0457 463 462 (Friday 9 July only). For media assistance: Penny Cox ANU Media – 02 6125 3549 / 0424 016 978

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