Individual and Dyadic Consumption of Time: Propositions on the Perception of Complementarity and Substitutability of Activities

ABSTRACT - The perceived complementarity and substitutability of discretionary activities is reflected in the time allocated to such activities. The interrelationship between perceptions of activities has been tied to the differences in the characteristics of husbands and wives. Propositions are developed and presented that are based on participation in and perceptions of activities. The implications for consumer behavior researchers are discussed.


U. N. Umesh, William A. Weeks, and Linda L. Golden (1988) ,"Individual and Dyadic Consumption of Time: Propositions on the Perception of Complementarity and Substitutability of Activities", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 15, eds. Micheal J. Houston, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 426-429.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 15, 1988     Pages 426-429


U. N. Umesh, Washington State University

William A. Weeks, Baylor University

Linda L. Golden, The University of Texas at Austin


The perceived complementarity and substitutability of discretionary activities is reflected in the time allocated to such activities. The interrelationship between perceptions of activities has been tied to the differences in the characteristics of husbands and wives. Propositions are developed and presented that are based on participation in and perceptions of activities. The implications for consumer behavior researchers are discussed.


Since the early work of Jacoby, Szybillo, and Berning (1976) who recognized the concept of time in the consumer behavior area, researchers have been involved in examining numerous topics regarding the consumption of time. Some studies have investigated issues such as, conceptualization and model building (c.f., Feldman and Hornik 1981), usefulness of time allocation as a predictor of other forms of consumption (Lee and Ferber 1977), and differences in behavior across family life cycle stages (c.f., Hendrix 1980). Other studies have examined differences in the consumption of time between working and nonworking wives (c.f., Nickols and Fox 1983), among individuals participating in leisure versus discretionary activities (c.f., Hawes 1977), and in the complementarity and substitutability between discretionary activities (Holbrook and Lehmann 1981).

Time As A Consumable

In any given day (or lifetime for that matter) an individual has a finite amount of time to allocate to various activities. Some activities are "necessities" and "must" be accomplished while other activities are discretionary. Thus, time can be viewed as a resource to be allocated and the activities an individual becomes involved in as "purchases" made with the resource. Some types of activities can be undertaken together while others are mutually exclusive. This distinction becomes particularly relevant for consumer decision-making when an individual has some choice about time allocation which can be assumed to occur during discretionary time allocation.

According to Henderson and Quandt (1958) and as operationalized by Holbrook and Lehmann (1981), activities are substitutes if both can satisfy the same need of the consumer. Activities are considered complements if they are consumed jointly to satisfy a broader need. For example, at a particular point or span in time one might view participation in handball or racquetball as substitute activities. Due to a limited amount of available discretionary time, an individual may have only enough time to participate in one of these activities to satisfy a given leisure need or goal. On the other hand, a person might be jointly involved in both aerobic exercises and baseball, with the motivation being to improve one's overall physical condition for playing better baseball. Such situations reflect a perceived and operationalized complementarity between aerobic exercises and baseball. Complementary activities need not necessarily have to occur at the same time or one after the other. Complementarity can be defined over a period of time, such as a week, a month, or a year.

Purpose and Conceptual Framework

Holbrook and Lehmann (1981) have established the importance of research in this area for consumer behavior. Their approach suggests that the perceptions about the interdependence of activities are reflected in the activities indulged in by the consumer. We use this concept to develop propositions about the perception of discretionary activities of husbands and wives. Our paper reviews literature in sociology, economics, and consumer behavior to identify potential factors that may influence the perceptions of complementarity and substitutability of activities in the allocation of time. Three major factors appear to be most frequently cited. They are: the wife's employment status, presence of children and satisfaction. Although other factors might have some effect on the participation in and perception of activities, for reasons of parsimony these three factors have been chosen for further analysis. Furthermore, this paper focuses on propositions that compare complementarity and substitutability behavioral patterns between spouses. These propositions also investigate joint husband/wife involvement in discretionary activities.

Among married couples, the activities of one spouse affects the activities of the other. The inclusion of spousal activities should produce richer implications than those obtained in past studies that analyzed individuals' interdependence of activities. Further, only married couples have been included in this paper. While other forms of relationships exist between couples, there is a wide variance in the nature of these relationships which would, in turn, make it difficult to predict the effect of activities on each other.


For many years now, economists have developed models linking consumption of time and money and treated them as interchangeable. While the bulk of consumer researchers (and marketers) have restricted their efforts to the study of consumption of products (and more recently services), with the increasing value of time it is essential that studies on time usage be placed on an equal footing. Knowing how consumers use their time (choosing one activity over another) should provide insights to those who study purchases of products and services.

Further, as more and more women join the work force, the time usage of women becomes an important area of study. The propositions developed here include the perceptions of women as well as the relationship between time-usage patterns of both spouses. The relationship between time usage of both spouses can be used to better predict the activities that are jointly performed by husband and wife. Thus, a better understanding of family time usage could be obtained.

As a practical consumer behavior issue, investigating the consumption of time from a complementarity and substitutability perspective offers useful information for firms that are interested in formulating advertising, distribution, and diversification strategies. For example, should a firm that manufacturers tennis equipment discover that its products are used by consumers in conjunction with health club memberships (complementarity relationship), the firm might want to advertise its products in publications that are read by individuals who are members of health clubs. Secondly, the same firm may find it most effective to ensure that its products are offered in stores that are located within a reasonable distance from health clubs. Finally, top management of this company may want to give health clubs consideration in terms of future diversification.


While nearly one-third of the American population now reside in single-head households, the majority of people still live in a "traditional" family unit (i.e., husband and wife). For this reason we have chosen to focus on married households. The decision to allocate discretionary time in married households is likely to be fraught with many competing demands (or constraints).

Since women's participation in the labor force has increased from 39.3% to 46.4% during 1965-1975 (Blau 1984), and is over 50% today, it is easy to justify investigating the effects that the wife's work status has on how she perceives numerous activities and how she distributes her time. For example, a wife who is not employed outside the home may feel she has time to participate in both early-evening aerobic exercises and Wednesday night volleyball (complement relationship). Another wife who is employed outside the home may feel she has only enough time to participate in one of these activities due to limited time available for discretionary involvement (substitute relationship). Hill and Juster (1985) identify work status as one "constraint" factor that can influence time allocation.

Previous studies have found significant differences in behavior patterns between working and nonworking wives which may be a function of their different perceptions regarding discretionary activities. For example, newly employed wives appear to spend fewer hours on household production activities (c.f., Gauger and Walker 1980), fewer hours on social and recreational activities (c.f., Nickols and Fox 1983), and fewer hours with their spouses in joint activities and leisure pursuits (c.f., Jorgenson 1977). The extra money she brings in may also make some types of family activities more available to her and her family (Jorgenson 1977).

The wife's employment status has been found to influence the mix of activities for both spouses much more so than husband's employment status (Sekaran 1983). In traditional marriages the employment of a wife impedes her from doing household activities and children-related activities that are traditionally identified with the wife-mother position. Further, the husband begins to feel less adequate as a breadwinner and is less satisfied. Changes in the husband's employment status, e.g., from full-time to part-time, has no effect on the husband's activities that are traditionally the wife's responsibility. Therefore, the decision has been made to discuss the wife's employment level rather than the husband's employment level.

Furthermore, based on Gover's (1963) findings, dissimilarities in individuals' perceptions of activities, i.e., their relative complementarity (or substitutability), should be more pronounced in the case of families with lower socio-economic status. Men and women in lower socio-economic status families are more comfortable in traditional marriages where the wife "looks after the family" and the husband often spends time "out with the boys." The employment of the wife is likely to cause serious disruption to marital life due to such pronounced changes in activities of the husband and the wife (c.f., Staines, Pottick and Fudge 1986).

In conclusion, work status of the wife and socioeconomic background have been known to influence participation in activities. As discussed earlier, Holbrook and Lehmann (1981) view participation in activities as a reflection of one's perception of activities. Thus, we postulate that perception of activities should be influenced by the work status of the wife and the socioeconomic status of the family. Therefore, the following proposition is offered:

P1: The difference in a working wife and a nonworking wife's perceptions of daily activities is reflected in the degree of complementarity and substitutability between activities for both husbands and wives. These dissimilarities will be more pronounced in families with lower socioeconomic backgrounds.


The presence of children in a family alters the activity patterns of both husbands and wives from their childless state. In particular, young children require more parent-time, leaving the parents with less time for other activities. The birth of a child (another example of Hill - and Juster's 1985 "constraint" factors) has been found in a wide range of studies to have a negative impact upon most marriages (c.f., Russell 1974).

The mix of activities can be expected to be different for spouses with children as compared to childless spouses. Furthermore, their perception of the degree of complementarity (or substitutability) for child-related (helping child read) and non-child-related activities (the amount of time the father spends on weekends camping with his friends) may be different. The amount of time allocated to some activities might be more, while the amount allocated to others might be quite less.

Kelley (1980) found that having pre-school children increased family-centered activities such as going to the swimming pool and decreased individual-centered activities such as golf or tennis. Children influence vacation destination decisions substantially (Cromptom 1981). Further, childless spouses were likely to spend more time on work-related activities (compared to spouses with children). Additionally, the husband and wife may spend differing levels of time on children-related activities. The amount of time that spouses with children spend with each other is generally less than the time childless spouses spend together.

As children grow older, it is suggested that less parental-time is required for children-related activities. Further, older children might be able to help look after their younger siblings. Partial support for these beliefs is provided by a number of studies that found a U-shaped relationship between marital quality over stages of the family life cycle (see Spanier and Lewis 1980 for a review). In summary, the presence of children is considered to strongly influence how parents allocate their time to activities which reflects the parents' perceptions. Their involvement in activities by themselves and with one another (husband and wife) leads to the following proposition:

P2: Husbands and wives with children will have different perceptions regarding the complementarity and substitutability of activities than childless spouses. Further, it is expected that such divergence will increase with the number of children living at home and decrease with the age of the oldest child.


The relationship between an individual's perceptions of activities and the individuals' life satisfaction is bi-directional. Individual's perceptions of activities influences whether or not they participate in these activities by themselves or with their spouses. Involvement in these activities results in different degrees of satisfaction depending on how positive the experiences are. The levels of satisfaction derived from each of the activities, in turn, influence the individual's perceptions of these activities.

Satisfaction in different realms is affected by participation in work-related, family-related, and leisure-related activities. Household activities fall under the family-related category. Work-related activities were found to influence both job satisfaction and overall life satisfaction (Sekaran 1983) . However, non-work-related activities were found to have a greater overall impact on life satisfaction. Compared to joint spousal participation, individual involvement in discretionary activities is negatively associated to marital satisfaction. Joint and parallel leisure activities were positively related to marital satisfaction (Orthner 1975). The different types of leisure activities indulged in, by one individual or jointly with another individual, have also been shown to produce different satisfaction levels (Holman and Epperson 1984).

Thus, satisfaction can be directly tied to the mix of activities indulged in by an individual or a family. If this mix changes, the calculated complementarity and substitutability of activities will change, as will the level of satisfaction. Thus, satisfaction and the calculated complementarity and substitutability of activities are related. Satisfaction has been measured in the areas of life, marriage and job. We prefer to treat the term satisfaction in the proposition statement as a composite measure whose components include all aspects of satisfaction.

When spouses do things together, the level of marital satisfaction has been found to increase (c.f., Spanier and Lewis 1980). When activities of spouses are different, the calculated complementarity (and substitutability) of activities will be different for the husband and the wife. Thus, the greater the difference in the mix of activities of husband and wife, the lower the satisfaction and greater the difference in calculated complementarity (and substitutability), which leads to the following proposition:

P3: The differences in life satisfaction are related to differences in perceptions of discretionary activities. Lower levels of satisfaction are expected to be related to increased differences in the respondent and the spouse's perceptions.


Both time-diaries, which request individuals to indicate how they allocated their time for a particular day (Walker and Woods 1976), and recall methods (Holbrook and Lehmann 1981), which require individuals to estimate approximately how many times they have participated in an activity during a given time period such as a year, have been used to collect time related information. Weeks, Umesh, and Wong (1986) compared the two approaches and found the diary method produces less complementarity relationships than does the recall method. They argued that finding fewer significant complement (or substitute) relationships with a time-diary may have been due to having higher variances. The week chosen for maintaining the diary may deviate from the normal week for some individuals, and this will increase the variance of the estimates. The recall method requires individuals to identify those activities they are most often involved in during a specific time for a typical weekday and weekend day. The gains from the improved variance more than offset the loss from people recalling incorrectly (at least based on their results). In view of these findings, this paper recommends using the recall method to obtain time usage information.

Consumer researchers have classified individuals based on the activities in which they participate, which has resulted in unique lifestyle profiles. For instance, YUPPIES could be characterized by a certain broad mix of activities that they choose in which to indulge. The focus of this paper is on the relationship between activities; a group with a particular lifestyle might perceive certain activities as strong substitutes, other activities as mild complements, etc. As the set of activities indulged in as well as the amount of time spent on each activity reflects the degree of complimentarity and substitutability among each pair of activities, it becomes relevant to study the factors that influence one's time use. By knowing the influence of these factors, it may be possible to classify and segment individuals and families into meaningful groupings.


Blau, Francine (1984), "Women in the Labor Force: An Overview," in Women: A Feminist Perspective, ed. Jo Freeman, Palo Alto, CA: Mayfield, 297-315.

Cromptom, J.L. (1981), "Dimensions of the Social Group Role in Pleasure Vacations," Annals of Tourism Research, 8, 550-568.

Feldman, Laurence P. and Jacob Hornik (1981), "The Use of Time: An Integrated Conceptual Model," Journal of Consumer Research, 7 (March), 407-419.

Gauger, William H. and Katherine E. Walker (1980), "The Dollar Value of Household Work," Information Bulletin 60, Ithaca, NY: New York State College of Human Ecology, Cornell University.

Gover, David A. (1963), "Socio-Economic Differential in the Relationship Between Marital Adjustment and Wife's Employment Status," Marriage and Family Living, 25 (November), 452-456.

Hawes, Douglass K. (1977), "Time Budgets and Consumer Leisure-Time Behavior," in Advances in Consumer Research, Vol. 4, ed. William D. Perreault, Jr., Atlanta, GA: Association for Consumer Research, 221-229.

Henderson, James M. and Richard E. Quandt (1958), Microeconomic Theory: A Mathematical Approach, New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co.

Hendrix, Philip E. (1980), "Subjective Elements in the Examination of Time Expenditures," in Advances in Consumer Research, Vol. 7, ed. Jerry C. Olson, Ann Arbor, MI: Association for Consumer Research, 437-441.

Hill, Martha S. and F. Thomas Juster (1985), "Constraints and Complementarities in Time Use," in Time, Goods, and Well-Being, eds. F. Thomas Juster and Frank P. Stafford, Ann Arbor, MI: Institute for Social Research, 439-470.

Holbrook, Moms B. and Donald R. Lehmann (1981), "Allocating Discretionary Time: Complementarity Among Activities," Journal of Consumer Research, 7 (March), 395-406.

Holman, Thomas B. and Arlin Epperson (1984), "Family and Leisure: A Review of the Literature with Research Recommendations," Journal of Leisure Research, Vol. 16 (4), 277-294.

Jacoby, Jacob, George J. Szybillo, and Carol Kohn Berning (1976), 'Time and Consumer Behavior An Interdisciplinary Overview," Journal of Consumer Research, 2 (March), 320-339.

Jorgenson, D.E. (1977), "The Effects of Social Position, and Wife/Mother Employment on Family Leisure-Time: A Study of Fathers," International Journal of Sociology of the Family, 7, 197-208.

Kelley, J.R. (1980), "Outdoor Recreation Participation: A Comparative Analysis," Leisure Sciences, 3, 129-154.

Lee, Lucy Chao and Robert Ferber (1977), "Use of Time as a Determinant of Family Market Behavior," Journal of Business Research, 5 (March), 75-91.

Nickols, Sharon Y. and Karen D. Fox (1983), "Buying Time and Saving Time: Strategies for Managing Household Production," Journal of Consumer Research, 10 (September), 197-208.

Orthner, D.K. (1975), "Leisure Activity Patterns and Marital Satisfaction Over the Marital Career," Journal of Marriage and the Family, 37, 91-102.

Russell, C.S. (1974), "Transition to Parenthood: Problems and Gratifications," Journal of Marriage and the Family, 36, 294-302.

Sekaran, Uma (1983), "Factors Influencing the Quality of Life in Dual-Career Families," Journal of Occupational Psychology, 56, 161-174.

Spanier, Graham B. and Robert A. Lewis (1980), "Marital Quality: A Review of the Seventies," Journal of Marriage and the Family, 42 (November), 825-839.

Staines, Graham L., Kathleen J. Pottick. and Deborah A. Fudge (1986), "Wives' Employment and Husbands' Attitudes Toward Work and Life," Journal of Applied Psychology, Vol. 71 (1), 118-128.

Walker, Kathryn E. and Margaret E. Woods (1976), Time Use: A Measure of Household Production of Family Goods and Services, Washington, DC: American Home Association.

Weeks, William A., U.N. Umesh, and John K. Wong (1986), "Complementarity and Substitutability Among Discretionary Activities with Time-Diaries,' in Advances in Consumer Research, Vol. 14, eds. Melanie Wallendorf and Paul Anderson, Toronto, Canada: Association for Consumer Research, 548-552.



U. N. Umesh, Washington State University
William A. Weeks, Baylor University
Linda L. Golden, The University of Texas at Austin


NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 15 | 1988

Share Proceeding

Featured papers

See More


A Simple Step to Go Beyond Present: How Visual Entropy Cues Influence Temporal Focus and Consumer Behavior

Gunes Biliciler-Unal, University of Texas at Austin, USA
Raj Raghunathan, University of Texas at Austin, USA
Adrian Ward, University of Texas at Austin, USA

Read More


Data-Driven Computational Brand Perception

Sudeep Bhatia, University of Pennsylvania, USA
Christopher Olivola, Carnegie Mellon University, USA

Read More


H7. Too Risky to Be Luxurious: Stigmatized Luxury Product Attributes Can Weaken or Increase Social Risk to Determine Conspicuous Consumption

Jerry Lewis Grimes, Grenoble Ecole de Management
Yan Meng, Grenoble Ecole de Management

Read More

Engage with Us

Becoming an Association for Consumer Research member is simple. Membership in ACR is relatively inexpensive, but brings significant benefits to its members.