Time Budgets and Consumer Leisure-Time Behavior

ABSTRACT - The two topics which comprise the title to this paper are receiving increasing attention by marketers. Yet, how Americans spend their fixed time income and how they are inclined to spend additional discretionary time are areas of human behavior that are not well understood. This paper reports some of the findings from a nationwide survey designed to explore these and related areas of consumer behavior.


Douglass K. Hawes (1977) ,"Time Budgets and Consumer Leisure-Time Behavior", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 04, eds. William D. Perreault, Jr., Atlanta, GA : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 221-229.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 4, 1977   Pages 221-229


Douglass K. Hawes, University of Wyoming


The two topics which comprise the title to this paper are receiving increasing attention by marketers. Yet, how Americans spend their fixed time income and how they are inclined to spend additional discretionary time are areas of human behavior that are not well understood. This paper reports some of the findings from a nationwide survey designed to explore these and related areas of consumer behavior.

Two topics in the field of consumer behavior which are attracting increasing interest are time budgets and lei-sure-time behavior (Jacoby, et al., 1976; Hawes, et al, 1975). The reasons for this growing interest include (a) recognition of the significant sums of money spent on leisure-time related goods and services (sums estimated to range between $80 and $150 billion per year), and (b) recognition of the need, in any comprehensive explanatory model of consumer choice, to understand more about consumers' use of time. In the words of Linder (1970, p. 17), we are certainly living in a culture "suffering from a time famine." His thesis, which has been widely discussed, is that "a dwindling scarcity of goods entails an increasing scarcity of time" (Linder, 1970, p. 24).

Assuming, then, that most Americans find themselves buffeted by increasing "demands" upon their fixed time budget ("supply"), it would be enlightening, and potentially profitable to marketers, to have some feel for how consumers would utilize "extra" discretionary time if it were made available to them. This paper presents some of the results of a nationwide study dealing, in part, with this particular question.


Marketers' interest in time budgets and leisure-time consumer behavior can be traced back to some of the early works by Nelson Foote (1961, 1966). Most of the articles on these topics in marketing-related journals have appeared since the mid-1960's, however, and include those by Daignault (1965), Voss (1967), Andreasen (1968) Weiss (1968), O'Connor (1970), Eisenpreis (1971), Schary (1971), and the session on Leisure Time Research in the 1974 Annual Conference of ACR (1975). The most recent overview article on the topic has been the one by Jacoby Szybillo, and Berning in the March 1976 issue of The Journal of Consumer Research.

Jacoby, et al. (1976) make several major points in their article, including:

1. There are very few published studies which display the main patterns of time for a representative sample of Americans (p. 331). (Author's note: probably the two most recent comprehensive reported studies are those in texts by Szalai (1972) and Chapin (1974). The Chapin text uses data collected in 1968, 1969, and 1971. The Szalai text reports American data collected in 1965 and 1966).

2. "Time considerations are becoming an increasingly important aspect of all forms of human behavior, with consumer behavior being no exception" (p. 326).

3. "...This (discussion) and debate on the topic) should indicate how little is actually known regarding the time-consumer behavior relationship" (p. 336).

Recent Developments

Juan de Torres in the May, 1976 issue of the Conference Board Record also discusses the shift of income "to the 'leisure' centers in the 'sunbelt' where most urban areas are smaller" (de Torres, 1976, p. 33). This reflects not only vacation travel but also the locational preferences of the increasing over-65 segment of the population. This particular market, obviously one with considerable discretionary time, is not only one of rising numbers (some 22 million in 1974) but also one of rising economic strength. Currently, "consumption expenditures for a husband and wife over 65 [are] slightly higher than for a husband and wife under 35 without children" (Brown, 1975, p. 55). Brown goes on to state,

The combined effects of social security, savings plans and pension programs have resulted in major changes in the financial condition of the over-65 age group. Clearly, a major market has evolved which business has not discovered.

...in terms of spending power, ...the over-65 age group has evolved into a much more powerful market segment than has yet been reflected in the literature or anybody's thinking (Brown, 1975, p. 55).

Related articles discussing the increasing importance of non-work, quality-of-life considerations in affecting the lives and location of Americans have recently appeared in Business Week (1976), Fortune (Meyer, 1976), and Industrial Research (Jones, 1976).

Finally, Hansen (1973, p. 13) summarizes what he believes to be the ramifications of this population movement away from metropolitan cores:

In the past, metropolitan growth has tended to draw off productive populations and investment capital from hinterland areas, but in the future centrifugal forces will reverse this pattern. For one thing, the hinterlands have space, scenery and communities that are increasingly attractive to metropolitan populations. Demand for these resources is being generated by rising real income, greater leisure, and increasing mobility. Personal income in 1972 has been estimated at $920 billion, a gain of almost 50 percent in a five-year period. Over 40 million Americans now work under employment conditions entitling them to three-week vacations. Federal law now provides five three-day weekends each year, and a trend toward a four-day work week is clearly in evidence with about two thousand companies now following this procedure. [The House has recently-approved and sent to the senate a bill (HltP043) to set up a three-year experimental period of four-day work weeks, as well as staggered hours ("flexitime") in the Federal government (Denver Post, 5/24/76, p. 12).] Earlier retirement has been encouraged by improved pension plans and higher social security benefits. Access to nonmetropolitan hinterlands has been vastly improved; for example, when the Interstate Highway System is complete an estimated 3.5 to 7.5 million acres will be opened for development.

Dollar sales of leisure equipment (an estimated $105 billion in 1972) have increased by 52 percent over the past five years, reflecting an accelerated desire to "get back to nature." ...About one third of the total mileage driven in private automobiles is devoted to getting to and from vacation areas. Clearly, satisfying leisure-time desires already represents a major opportunity for many nonmetropolitan areas, and growth prospects in this regard have few parallels.

The impact of rising real income and population movement to the South and Southwest lies in the fact that (a) "theoretically, each 1% rise in disposable personal income implies more than 2% rise in expenditures for leisure-time goods and services" (Business Week, 9/16/ 72, p. 76), and (b) "Western U.S. families spend one-third more on recreation than the U.S. average" (Eisenpreis, 1971, p. 50). There is little reason to expect that Southwestern U.S. families (and, probably Southern families) deviate excessively from this figure.

In summary, the study by marketers of consumer time budgets, and particularly as they relate to leisure-time expenditures, is in its infancy. The importance of understanding more about leisure-time budgets lies in two areas. First, such understanding is imperative in the development of comprehensive explanatory models of consumer choice behavior. Second, there is a very real and growing market for leisure-time goods and services, nurtured by changing economic, demographic, and life-style conditions, and yet essentially unrecognized in the marketing literature.


The data reported on herein came from a study designed in part to examine the following research questions:

1. How do Americans allocate, on the average, their fixed weekly time budget of 168 hours?

2. How do these allocations vary by sex and other demographic categories?

3. What proportion of this weekly time budget is spent, on the average, in leisure-time (really, discretionary- time) pursuits?

4. How do Americans believe they would spend (a) an extra two hours in their day, and (b) a three-day weekend every week? (While the author recognizes the hazards involved in planning on the basis of "intentions data" (Green and Tull, 1975, p. 109-111; Churchill, 1976, p. 161-162), it is believed that this type of information at least provides a starting point, a benchmark, against which to evaluate developing trends. It is also worth noting that studies of the reliability of intentions data have focused almost exclusively on purchase intentions--particularly of durable goods.)

Asking respondents how they would utilize additional hours in their day is not a hypothetical question. While the length of the day or week obviously cannot be changed, the amount of discretionary time in this period can be altered. Figure 1 suggests several ways in which employed men and women and housewives could gain additional discretionary time.


This study utilized data from a representative nationwide sample of households surveyed by Market Facts, Inc. (Chicago), in the summer of 1973. These households were selected from their 45,000 household Consumer Mail Panel and were "balanced" on the variables of (1) geographic division of the country, (2) total annual household income (TAHI), except that householders with TAHI of less than $4,000 were excluded, (3) population density and degree of urbanization, and (4) age of panel member (female head of household) to agree with U.S. Census and Sales Management "Survey of Buying Power" national averages of the continental civilian adult noninstitutionalized population as of January, 1973. Both the female head-of-household and male head were sent separate, identical, color-coded 20-page questionnaires which covered a wide range of leisure-time and time-budget related topics. The questionnaire had previously been refined through three different pre-tests of approximately 100 households each, including one which was national in scope. There were 603 net usable female responses and 512 net usable male responses, or an average net response rate of 56% (based on 2000 questionnaires).

The demographic characteristics of the respondents were very close to the proportions true of the entire United States on geographic region, urbanization, income, and education, and only slightly higher in age than the adult U.S. population. Families with total household income under $4,000 were excluded from the original sample, but incomes of respondents were otherwise similar to the income distribution in the total U.S. population. Non-respondents did not differ from respondents on any demographic variable category by mere than 5.3 percent, and only two categories exceeded 5.0 percent.

The final questionnaire requested, in addition to other items, information of the following nature:

1. Approximately how many of the 168 hours in a week did the respondent spend in each of 17 listed activities ("during the average week")?

2. What would the respondents do with an extra two hours in their day; with a three-day weekend every week? (A list of 36 possible "activities'' was given and the respondent was to check all those that they believed they would engage in under each (either) of the two situations).

Demographic data, including respondent's age, education, occupation or employment status, total household income, household size, and location (rural, urban, or central city) of household had already been collected by Market Facts.


It is clearly very difficult, if not impossible, to obtain a precise estimate of the number of hours in a week spent in leisure-time pursuits. The main reason for this is that some people will find a leisure component in tasks which other people see only as "Work." Nevertheless, Table 1 indicates that the females respondents spent approximately 40 hours in an average week (24 percent of the week, or 5.69 hours per day) in lei-sure-time pursuits, while the male respondents utilized about 36 hours of their week (22 percent of the week, or 5.2 hours per day) for such pursuits. This estimate is based on the total hours spent in those activities from "Reading newspapers and magazines" to the end of the list. If one adds "playing with children" to this list, the total for women, particularly, increases noticeably.



The individual mean values are also instructive, and would seem to support common wisdom regarding "typical" male and female activities. It is interesting to note the very similar amounts of time on the average spent by both sexes in reading newspapers, watching television, and participating in or attending sporting events. One might expect greater female involvement in the for-mar two activities and greater male involvement in the latter two.

The standard deviations, though numerically larger than the means in either nine or ten cases, are understandable. They imply, and the frequency counts bear this out, that a number of respondents indicated that they spent zero hours per "average" week in these particular activities. For example, a number of the respondents did not have any children, therefore, unless they read "your children" to include non-progeny with whom they were involved (grandchildren, youth groups), these individuals would legitimately indicate zero hours per week in this activity. Similarly with hobbies/games/crafts, sports, and entertainment outside the home--one would not expect all respondents to engage in each of these activities every week. The same generic argument may be made for the standard deviations associated with the three work-related activities. This data, therefore, is representative of the gross population, rather than the net population actually engaging in those activities where discretion is possible.

How do these figures compare with other similar reported studies? Jacoby et al. (1976, p. 324) cite a study by Robinson wherein he found an average total of 128 minutes of daily television viewing time. The average of the male and female television viewing hours per week in this study translate to 129 minutes per day. While this study found that the female respondents spent about 4.56 hours per day on the average in housework (on the basis of a five-day week), it is reported in Szalai (1972, p. 126) that across 44U.S. cities tn November/ December 1965 and March/April 1966, women spent an average of 4.7 hours per day in housework. The fact that the present study was conducted during the summer may account for the difference. Several other similarities (in minutes per day) worth noting are:


Finally, this study found that male respondents averaged 5.2 hours of leisure or free time per day and female respondents 5.7 hours per day. Szalai (1972, p. 133) found that across the 44 U.S. cities employed males averaged 4.8 hours of free time per day, while employed women averaged 4.1 hours and housewives 5.7 hours of free time per day. It should be noted that this study's sample was heavily weighted with housewives.

Time Usage by Demographics

Tables 2 and 3 indicate the variability of time spent by the respondents in each of the ten most directly leisure-time related activities across selected demographic categories. Standard deviations and significance tests (though computed) are not presented in these tables in the interest of clarity--given the large number of combinations.

As one might expect, younger women who are full-time housewives spend significantly more time playing with or helping their children than older employed women. [The term "significantly" is used to indicate differences statistically significant at the .05 level (2-tailed) or greater.] Not as obviously, women in the highest income category spend significantly less time with their children than women in the lower two categories.

The only significant difference-in-time spent-reading newspapers and magazines, and participating in or attending sporting events appears between the youngest and oldest age categories. Similarly, women under 24 spend significantly more time in entertainment outside the home than those over 55. Women in the highest income category and those who are neither full-time homemakers nor employed full-time are similarly active in entertainment outside the home (other than sporting events).



With regard to more in-home activities, spending time on hobbies, games, and crafts is more likely to be an activity of those women who are not employed full-time, live in an urban location, and are age 55 or older. It is interesting to note the patterns in the viewing of television. Time spent in television watching is least among women (a) with college educations, (b) with total household income of $15,000 or more, (c) with three or more children, (d) between ages 35 and 55, and (e) who are employed full-time. This breakdown could be discussed at great length in terms of programming and "quality" of audience being served in general. Table 3 indicates that male operatives under 35, and who are high school graduates or have some college, spend significantly more time with their children than men in the other age and education categories. As with the women, males in the highest income category spend significantly less time with their children than males in the two lower income categories. While this may reflect an intervening age variable, it is not clear that this is the case.

There is no statistically significant variability across demographic categories in time spent in entertainment outside the home. The only significant differences in time spent on hobbies, games, and crafts occurs between the 45-54 and 55 and over age groups, and between urban and central city dwellers. No doubt the former reflects the retirees among the respondents, while the latter case may reflect either different interests, different life-styles, or fewer opportunities.



Basically similar patterns appear in both participating in sports and attending sporting events. Time spent in participation is significantly greater among young, white-collar males with one child and who are either high school or college graduates, than among males falling in the demographic segments with the lowest time expenditures. Male respondents who are either professionals or clerical/sales workers spend significantly more time attending sporting events than do operatives and laborers/farmers. Interestingly, males with three or more children spend significantly more time attending sporting events than those with one child, which is just the opposite pattern from that associated with participation in sports.

Finally, high-income males with a college degree and those living in rural areas spend the fewest hours in the week watching television. These high-income, college educated males do, however, spend significantly more time reading newspapers and magazines than their counterparts. Time devoted to this activity is also significantly higher among males with no children, those 55 and over, and those in managerial or administrative occupations. Again, these differences are relative to the category segments with the lowest time figures.

While it is difficult to generalize across all these re-suits in terms of marketing implications, the noted significant differences (at the .05 level or greater) do provide marketers with some indication of the heavy and light segments in different demographic categories. This should help the creative marketer to do a better job of targeting his promotional messages and offerings, and/or to recognize opportunities for increasing the time spent on an activity-by segments with current-minimal participation.

Usage of Additional Discretionary Time

Tables 4 and 5 contrast the male and female responses to the questions "What would you do with an extra two hours in your day?" and "What would you do with a three-day weekend every week?", respectively. Including tied ranks Table 4 shows that nine of the top ten activities are common to both sexes, although the rankings are different. In addition, female respondents included four additional activities (socialize/visit friends, spend time shopping, gardening/landscaping, and creative activities) among their top ten candidates for occupying additional discretionary time. It is interesting to note the size of the gap in percentages between the first and second ranked items for either sex. Marketers promoting time-saving products or services to males should depict the male resting or relaxing as the major benefit accruing from use of the product or service. For women, on the other hand, the major benefit might be depicted as allowing the completion of other mere leisurely or relaxing household chores or projects or as permitting time for reading.



Table 5 indicates substantial agreement between males and females, not only in their top ten choices of activities for three-day weekends, but also in the actual percentages of respondents selecting each activity. All ten of the female respondent's top choices fall within the males' top ten, but, because of a tied rank, "fishing and hunting" also appears in the maze top ten (in fifth place). Five of these ten identical activities achieved the same rank order position by each sex. Three of the top four activities are the same for each sex and ranked identically.

The most obvious, albeit non-marketing, implication of the ranking of these activities is that the four-day/ flexitime work week bill currently pending in the Senate (see footnote 1) is quite possibly going to result in behavior contrary to a major goal of the Federal Energy Administration--namely, gasoline conservation. An average of two-thirds of the respondents indicated they would use their three-day weekends to "take trips, visit places I've always wanted to see." Additionally, at least four of the top ten choices involve travel of some magnitude.



The marketing implications of just this group of ten choices for three-day weekend activities are numerous. For example, travel-related firms and hardware/garden supply stores in the vicinity of companies adopting a four-day week now have a better idea of the latent desires of the employees, and can promote their products and services accordingly. By the same token, community involvement organizations (including political parties) can now appreciate the uphill struggle they face in gaining additional active members should flexitime or a four-day work week be implemented. Finally, the level of agreement between males and females in their top ten choices augurs well for family-oriented activities or activity centers.

How valid are these intentions or inclinations data? Riva Poor (1973, pp. 69-92) reports on one small study of 138 workers from 13 different four-day firms. Precise comparison is tenuous because Poor included both male and female workers and did not separate the results by sex. Also, there were a number of leisure activities included in her survey which were not in this survey, and vice versa. Nevertheless, all of the ten most frequently mentioned activities actually engaged in by Poor's respondents (Poor, 1973, p. 85), who had recently gone to a four-day week, are included in the top 14 activities (including both male and female lists) of Table 5. Similarly, eight of the 11 leisure activities showing the greatest percentage increase in participation upon going to a four-day week (after deleting activities on Poor's list which were not in the current study) are among the top 12 activities of Table 5.

While this comparison certainly is not conclusive, it does suggest that people's inclinations as to what they would do with a three-day weekend every week do, in fact, materialize in proportions close to these inclinations--at least in the short run.




This paper has presented some recent findings on how respondents in a nationwide study allocate their weekly time budget, and how these allocations vary by sex and other demographics. These respondents' inclinations for allocating additional "leisure" or discretionary time were also presented. While extrapolation of these results to the continental adult population at large is to be viewed with the usual cautions and caveats, Market Facts, Inc., indicates that commercial firms have in the past successfully made such generalizations in product preference surveys. The comparability of the results with results from larger surveys also adds to their credibility.

The importance of these findings lies in presenting recent data on a little-studied aspect of consumer behavior in a marketing context and media, and thereby giving marketing decision makers an indication of (a) how market segments in fact spend their time, and (b) the most popular candidates for involvement upon acquisition of additional discretionary time. As noted, there is some indication that these intentions or inclinations do materialize in the short run. Finally, the relatively close correspondence between these results and those of larger surveys implies that less expensive sampling may be adequate to determine time budgets and their shifts (given sufficient magnitude of shift versus needed confidence band and coefficient) over time.

Do these findings change anything? That is a difficult question to address because of (a) the exploratory nature of this study, (b) the unknown amount of proprietary information of this nature residing in corporate files, and (c) rationales behind current marketing campaigns for various leisure-time related goods and services. These findings do suggest an increase in scope, however, to include time-budget and related questions in market research. The significant differences found in this study may well prove to have both actionable and profitable strategic implications for the alert and creative marketer.

Finally, some of the actions suggested by these results have been discussed earlier in the paper. Other appropriate action includes (a) comparing these findings with known market behavior, (b) focusing in on the time-and leisure-related behavior of specific market segments of interest to particular firms, and (c) attempting to determine, through further study, answers to the "Why?" question, so that current models of consumer behavior may be tested and refined.


"AMF Rides the Booming Leisure Market," Business Week, (September 16, 1972), 76-80.

A. R. Andreasen, "Leisure/Mobility and Life Style Patterns," in R. Moyer, ed., Changing Marketing Systems: Consumer, Corporate, and Government Interforces. Proceedings of the Winter Conference of the American Marketing Association, December, 1967. Chicago: American Marketing Association, 1968, 55-62.

G. H. Brown, "America's New Demographic Profile," The Conference Board Record, 12 (October, 1975), 53-61.

F. S. Chapin, Human Activity Patterns in the City: Things People Do in Time and Space. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1974.

G. A. Churchill, Jr., Marketing Research: Methodological Foundations. Hinsdale, Illinois: The Dryden Press, 1976.

P. Daignault, "New Markets in Time," Sales Management, 94 (June 18, 1965), 30-32.

J. de Torres, "The New Pattern of Urban Migration," The Conference Board Record, 13 (May, 1976), 28-34.

A. Eisenpreis, "The Goods for Leisure and Recreation," The Conference Board Record, 8 (July, 1971), 58-61.

N. N. Foote, "Methods for Study of Meaning in Use of Time," in R. W. Kleemer, ed., Aging and Leisure: A Research Perspective into the Meaningful Use of Time. New York: Oxford University Press, 1961, 155-176.

N. N. Foote, "The Time Dimension and Consumer Behavior,'' in J. W. Newman, ed., On Knowing the Consumer. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1966, 38-46.

P. E. Greene and D. S. Tull, Research for Marketing Decisions, Third Edition. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1975.

N. M. Hansen, The Future of Nonmetropolitan America. Lexington, Mass.: Lexington Books/D. C. Heath and Co., 1973.

D. K. Hawes, W. W. Talarzyk, and R. D. Blackwell, "Consumer Satisfactions From Leisure Time Pursuits," in M. J. Schlinger, ed., Advances in Consumer Research, Vol. 2. Chicago: Association for Consumer Research, 1975, 817-836.

J. Jacoby, G. J. Szybillo, and C. K. Berning, "Time and Consumer Behavior: An Interdisciplinary Overview," The Journal of Consumer Research, 2 (March, 1976), 320-339.

R. R. Jones, "Says the Job Hunter--Town First, Job Second," Industrial Research, 18 (May, 1976), 73-76.

S. Linder, The Harried Leisure Class. New York: Columbia University Press, 1970.

H. E. Meyer, "Why Corporations are on the Move," Fortune, 93 (May, 1976), 252-254ff.

J. O'Connor, "Leisure Market Keeps Zooming, Management Research Seminar Told," Advertising Age, 41 (April 27, 1976), 90.

R. Poor, 4 Days, 40 Hours. New York: New American Library (Mentor), 1973.

P. B. Schary, "Consumption and the Problem of Time," Journal of Marketing, 35 (April, 1971), 50-55.

"The Second War Between the States," Business Week, (May 17, 1976), 92ff.

A. Szalai, The Use of Time: Daily Activities of Urban and Suburban Populations in Twelve Countries. The Hague: Mouton, 1972.

J. Voss, "The Definition of Leisure," Journal of Economic Issues, 1 (June, 1967), 91-106.

E. G. Weiss, "Bored with Possessions? Time is Next Status Symbol," Advertising Age, 39 (April 8, 1968), 60-62.

"Workweek Experiments Approved," Denver Post, (May 24, 1976), 12.



Douglass K. Hawes, University of Wyoming


NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 04 | 1977

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