Women Have Less Free Time
[Listen to an audio version of this blog here.]
This past Thursday, (January 20, 2021) I made a strong pot of coffee and sat my happy little ass on my living room couch to watch the 46th presidential inauguration of Joe Biden and running mate Kamala Harris. Harris is the fist female vice president ever. This may seem minor to some, but it's not. Harris follows a long line of men who look much like her running mate. Some have tried to downplay this victory, but fuck all that shit. Women are slowly inching our way closer to equality but more often than not, we have to be more able than our male counterparts to hold the same jobs. We have had to demand equality of pay in the workplace, fight for our safety, tolerate unfounded criticism, and untie laws that were inherently unequal. Tears ran down my face as Kamala was sworn in. I was watching history happen and I knew that some of the fundamental values of our nation were slowly changing. The idea of having a woman in charge of policy and national security is no longer a dream.
I had hoped for this in 2016, but victory doesn't always come when we want it. Perhaps it comes when we need it. As I watched a woman make history, I thought about the women in my own life I've most admired. Aside from my mother and grandmother, I've been lucky to have strong, smart women to look up to and guide me. From college professors to past bosses to fellow ultra runners and even many of my peers. Women are incredibly strong, physically and mentally. We can handle a lot of simultaneous responsibility, and we do. I mean, I don't: I'm young and have no family so I have ample free time to pursue all my interests. But I started wondering about women who don't have so much free time; about how men and women spend the bulk of their time, and how we might spend it differently.
One study found that men, on average, enjoy 43 hours of leisure time each week. This makes perfect sense if someone is working a 40 hour work week with weekends and nights free. Women, on the other hand, have five less hours of free time each week. That's nearly an hour a day less, so where does all that time go?
One conjecture is that, although women work more part-time jobs than men, they also spend more time completing unpaid work such as household chores and childcare. I think most women would agree that they do more of the day-to-day household work/child-rearing duties. This isn't a bad thing necessarily, but this work is highly undervalued and unpaid. The majority of leisure time for both men and women is spent consuming media, i.e., reading, listening to music, watching TV, or staring into the never-ending abyss of our cell phones. This is unsurprising.
Women in general have less free time than men, but people like me, who don't have kids have even more leisure time. And, (this is unsurprising as well), socioeconomic level is positively associated with leisure time, probably because rich people can pay other people to do things like cook for them, wash their cars, do their laundry, clean their homes, or care for their kids. A study published by Oxford University Press found not only that men tend to have more free time but that marriage and children exacerbate the gender gap, which may be one reason women are delaying marriage and kids. Women are also waiting because *some* of us fear losing autonomy and independence (ie: we don't want to give up all our free time). Many of us watched our mothers juggle a career, run a household, and raise kids. Some of us aspire to that and some of us want to hold onto our free time or hold off on the marriage/kids bit until we find an egalitarian partner. There is no right or wrong way to be a woman or build a life, despite what you see or hear.
In regard to women having less time, however, we seem to make the most of it. Women reported significantly higher levels of satisfaction than men regarding their leisure time activities, which could occur for a few different reasons. We might make more fulfilling choices about how to utilize our free time. Or, men might have too much free time, which may make pleasurable experiences less pleasurable over time. If all we have is fun, it sort of stops being...fun.
Sadly, most women are faced with a choice: to pursue a career and have time for themselves; to pursue a career and family and have very little free time; or to pursue a family with a spouse who is the breadwinner. And of course, there are cases where women find a spouse who is happy to split the difference. I should point out that there is no right answer, and no right way to live. But the data doesn't lie, and marriage and kids mean different things for women and men.
Whether or not you find yourself with ample free time or tiny slices of it, what you do with your free time seems to matter more than anything. The women I admire most have varying amounts of free time but high life satisfaction because they are engaged in meaningful activities. Once retired, they may volunteer for an organization they love. In the workforce, they may care more about making an impact or difference and less about making money. In social circles, women cast wider nets and have a larger network to fall back on in times of hardship. Either way, free time is not necessarily synonymous with happiness and equality of time (among other things) is not yet a reality for many women.
But, we're getting closer to equality and last weeks' inauguration was one step in the long, slow march toward equal representation. It matters. Time matters. And we're getting there.
P.S. If your reaction to this blog is to defend your amount of leisure time, kindly take a look inward. Read more about how women and men build social networks here, read about how women have less time here, and read more about the inauguration here.