Social Indicators Research

, Volume 113, Issue 3, pp 1091–1104

Americans Less Rushed But No Happier: 1965–2010 Trends in Subjective Time and Happiness

Authors

    • Department of SociologyUniversity of Maryland
Article

DOI: 10.1007/s11205-012-0133-6

Cite this article as:
Robinson, J.P. Soc Indic Res (2013) 113: 1091. doi:10.1007/s11205-012-0133-6

Abstract

A general societal consensus seems to have emerged that the pace of daily life, at least in the US and other Western countries, is speeding up. However, there seems little empirical evidence to document its presence, let alone its increase. The present article reviews results from two questions on subjective-time pressure that have been asked periodically in US national probability surveys since 1965, and which were repeated in separate 2009 and 2010 surveys. Counter to the popular societal consensus on an increasingly time-pressured society noted above, respondent reports of feelings of being “always rushed” declined by 6–9 points from those reported in 2004. The decline was found both among employed and unemployed respondents, indicating it was not simply a function of higher unemployment. At the same time, feelings of being “very happy” also declined over this period, despite the finding that time-pressured people have consistently reported being less happy. Moreover, more time-pressured people continued to report being less happy in these 2009–2010 surveys, even after controls for marital status, employment and other important predictors of happiness. Somewhat higher correlations with happiness were found for a related subjective-time question on having excess time on one’s hands.

Keywords

Subjective timeSocial trendsHappinessQuality of lifeTime use

1 Introduction

A general societal consensus seems to have emerged that the pace of daily life, at least in the US and other Western countries, is speeding up. Perhaps the most outspoken and prominent advocate of this view is Hartmut Rosa (Rosa 2005; Rosa and Scheuerman 2010), which he conveys not only in his book title Acceleration, but in his elaborate and detailed Youtube presentation of the same title. Rosa is not alone, however, having joined a number of previous authors echoing the faster-paced theme, including The Overworked American (Schor 1991), Busy Bodies (Burns 1993), Work Without End (Hunnicutt 1998), Faster (Gleik 1999), The Time Divide (Jacobs and Gerson 2004), Fighting for Time (Epstein and Kalleberg 2004), Work to Live (Robinson 2003), Take Back Your Time (de Graff 2003), and Busier Than Ever (Darrah et al. 2007). Each conveys in their short titles concerns over increasing time or work pressures in society. These texts have been complemented by TV documentaries titled Running out of Time (PBS 1994) and Brave New World (ABC News) among others—particularly as these media cover the dramatic proliferation of time-intensive new communication technologies as a routine development in daily life.

A number of prominent social scientists contributed essays largely echoing this theme in the special issue of Social Research on busyness edited by Mack (2005). However, despite this broad consensus about an increasing time scarcity, little empirical documentation is in evidence of its presence, let alone its increase. The American Psychological Association (APA 2112) has begun to monitor stress levels in the US public on an annual basis since 2007. However, they use self-selected Internet samples and not the type of national probability samples employed in the studies analyzed here, which are samples that are designed to be generalizable to the US public as a whole. Although the focus of their annual stress reports has been on the dysfunctional implications of stress in relation to caregiving, obesity and depression, the APA’s latest report notes that extreme stress levels in their samples have steadily declined from 32 % in 2007, to 30 % in 2008, to 24 % in 2009 and 2010, and to 22 % in 2011. At the same time, more than 40 % of these same respondents also estimated that their stress levels had increased in the previous 5 years.

Earlier, Robinson and Godbey (1999) had reviewed three short measures of subjective time pressure: (1) stress questions developed and measured by the US National Institutes of Health in the 1990s, (2) a “time crunch” scale of 10 yes–no questions and (3) two earlier questions asking respondents how often they felt “rushed” or had excess time on their hands. The latter had the advantage of having been asked across several decades starting in 1965. They indicated that Americans aged 18–64 had increased their feelings of being “always” rushed, from about 25 % in 1965 to about 35 % in the 1980s (a 10-point increase that was found despite the 5+ h per week gain in their free time over the same period). Since the 1980s, Fig. 1a shows that the “almost rushed” response had reached something of a plateau and continued to register about a 35 % level of being always rushed (as reviewed in Table 1 and in Robinson and Godbey 1996; 1999), including its last reading in the 2004 GSS.
https://static-content.springer.com/image/art%3A10.1007%2Fs11205-012-0133-6/MediaObjects/11205_2012_133_Fig1_HTML.gif
Fig. 1

a Trends in “always rushed” responses: 1965–2004, b Trends in subjective-time responses: 1965–2010

Table 1

Trends in subjective time responses by year (% giving response)

Years

1965

1971

1975

1976

1982

1985

1995

1996

1998

2004

2009

2010

Age 18–64

UMich

UMich

UMich

UMich

GSS

UMD

UMD

GSS

UMD

GSS

UNF

GSS

 (A) Rushed (n)

1134

8888

1234

3102

1581

2424

988

1260

920

855

739

788

  (1) Always

24 %

27

27

20

27

35

34

33

35

34

28

25

  (2) Sometimes

53 %

50

52

61

56

50

56

56

56

55

59

60

  (3) Almost never

23 %

23

21

19

17

15

10

11

9

11

13

15

 (B)* Time on hands (n)

888

1999

1111

2479

1150

NA

658

NA

NA

569

634

NA

  (1) Quite often

15 %

14

12

8

14

NA

7

NA

NA

10

9

NA

  (2) Now and then

37 %

41

42

44

42

NA

38

NA

NA

41

46

NA

  (3) Almost never

48 %

45

46

48

100 %

NA

55

NA

NA

49

45

NA

 

100 %

100 %

100 %

100 %

100 %

 

100 %

100 %

 

100 %

100 %

 

All adults (18+)

UMich

UMich

UMich

UMich

GSS

UMD

UMD

GSS

UMD

GSS

UNF

GSS

1965

1971

1975

1976

1982

1985

1995

1996

1998

2004

2009

2010

 (A) Rushed (n)

 

9519

1513

3590

1852

2976

1199

1452

975

986

994

997

  (1) Always

NA

22

24

18

25

32

29

30

35

31

27

22

  (2) Sometimes

NA

51

50

58

53

48

54

53

55

54

58

57

  (3) Almost never

NA

27

26

24

22

20

17

17

10

15

15

21

  

100 %

100 %

100 %

100 %

100 %

100 %

100 %

100 %

100 %

100 %

 

 (B)* Time on hands (n)

 

2261

2222

2927

1404

NA

848

NA

NA

682

729

NA

  (1) Quite often

NA

15

13

9

16

NA

9

NA

NA

11

9

NA

  (2) Now and then

NA

37

40

43

42

NA

35

NA

NA

41

46

NA

  (3) Almost never

NA

48

47

48

42

NA

56

NA

NA

48

45

NA

  

100 %

100 %

100 %

100 %

 

100 %

  

100 %

100 %

 

(A) Rushed question

Would you say you always feel rushed, even to do the things you have to do, only sometimes feel rushed, or almost never feel rushed?

(B) Time on hands question

How often would you say that you have time on your hands you don’t know what to do with quite often, only now and then, or almost never?

*As asked only of those not “always” rushed

This article first updates some long-term trends in these two subjective-time questions, with repeats of these questions in two separate surveys in 2009 (both questions) and in 2010 (rushed question only). The expectation is that they will continue to document these flat trends, if not show increases due to the proliferation of new communication and other technologies (like cell phones, ipads and other social networking devices), which provide increasing speed as a prominent feature. Further adding pressures and complexities of daily life has been the fallout from banking and financial crisis since 2007. How visible, then, are these various developments in how respondents respond to these subjective-time questions?

The article then turns to analyses of the relation of these subjective-time questions to their implications for broader quality of life (QOL) issues, in particular whether people who report more time pressure on these subjective-time questions also report lower personal well-being. In particular, do people who report being rushed also report being less happy?

1.1 Data Sources

The 1965–2010 trend data in percentage responses to the two subjective-time questions (rushed and time-on-hands) are shown in Table 1, which documents the trends separately for those (a) of working age 18–64 at the top and (b) all adults 18 and older at the bottom. In the first column, it can be seen that the questions were originally asked in the 1965 Americans’ Use of Time Study (AUTS) Project, which was the US component of the multinational time-diary project of Szalai (1972). It was conducted at the University of Michigan (with a sample of urban non-farm households only and for people aged 19–65). These subjective-time questions were then repeated subsequently in three full Michigan national surveys of all adults aged 18 and older: an omnibus national survey in 1971, a second national time-diary project in 1975 and a Quality of Life project in 1976.

The next reading of the questions came in 1982 from a different source—the General Social Survey (GSS)—then conducted annually (now biannually), at the University of Chicago. This GSS reading was repeated again in 1996 and 2004—and now again for the present article in 2010. The first reading from the University of Maryland (UMD) came from its first national time-diary survey in 1985 (for the rushed question only). It was then repeated in UMD diary surveys in 1995 and 1998, and in an omnibus (non-diary) survey in 1996.

This article focuses on the final two columns in Table 1, namely the updated readings from: (1) the 2010 GSS survey noted above (n = 997), and (2) a national RDD telephone omnibus survey (n = 998) conducted at the Survey Research Laboratory at the University of North Florida (UNF) in 2009. As in earlier GSS data collections, the“rushed” question was asked of respondents (who were part of a panel who had been initially interviewed for about 90 min in their homes in 2008). Field procedures and raw data for the GSS have been archived at sda. berkeley. edu, where these data can be analyzed directly online. Details for the sampling and field procedures for the UNF telephone survey can be found in the Appendix. The GSS attained a response rate of around 70 % of originally designated respondents, while the UNF’s response rate was closer to 25 %. Both data sets were post-stratified to match Census Bureau demographic figures on gender, age, race, marital status, education and income.

The updated Table 1 data are summarized graphically in Fig. 1b, where it can be seen that the “always rushed” response for those aged 18–64 started in the mid-20 %’s in the 1960s, rising to 28 % in 1982 and to 35 % in 1985, where it had largely remained at around that plateau until its last reading in the 2004 GSS.

Contrary to expectations, both of the most recent surveys now show decreases in percents feeling always rushed among those 18–64, a 6-point drop to 28 % in the 2009 UNF survey and a larger 9-point drop to 25 % in the 2010 GSS survey. These same drops can be seen when examining the results for all adults 18+ in the bottom half of Table 1. These declines thus put the “always rushed” levels in 2009–2010 at about where they were in the 1970s.

Figure 1b and Table 1 also show that responses to the second subjective-time question on having excess time (in terms of “almost never” having time on one’s hand and not knowing what to do with it) had remained fairly constant from an initial reading of 48 % in 1965 to 51 % in 1996 and 49 % in 2004 (for those aged 18–64), and from 47 % in 1975 to 49 % in 2004 for all adults (with a notable increase to 55 % in the 1995 UMD survey). The new reading from the 2009 UNF survey now shows a decline from 49 % in 2104 to 45 % in 2005 among all adults, along with a parallel decline from 49 to 45 % among those of working age (18–64).

It needs to be noted that these percent responses on the excess time question are based only on respondents who reported not “always” being rushed on that first subjective question. If one compares all respondents asked the complete time-on-hands question in 2009 with all respondents in the comparable 1995 question format, the 2009 results show a similar decline from 62 % in 1995 to 54 % in 2009 for all adults 18+. (Some further interesting differences occur when the excess time question is also asked of those feeling always rushed as well, and these results will be discussed in the next section on QOL implications).

Overall, then, the two sets of results are rather surprising, given the plateau of readings at about 35 % always rushed levels since the 1980s, and in light of all the time-intensive developments in IT and the economic crises since 2008. The trends in the excess-time question are also in the slower-paced direction, with a 4–8 point reduction in those “never” having excess time on their hands—or conversely having excess free time on their hands.

In addition to these decreases in subjective time pressure, some of their important QOL implications are surprising as well.

1.2 QOL Implications of Subjective Time

These subjective time attitudes have been found to have implications for more direct measures of a person’s quality of life (QOL). A central QOL measure has been survey respondents’ self-rated happiness, a question first intensively investigated by Bradburn and Caplovitz (1966), and one that has been asked continuously by the General Social Survey (GSS) since 1972. It simply asks respondents whether they feel “Very, Somewhat or Not” happy. The question has consistently been shown to correlate positively with several demographic factors, such as higher income, being married, being higher educated, older and White—as well as other subjective QOL variables, such as alienation, self esteem, locus of control, optimism and life satisfaction, among others (Andrews and Robinson 1991).

In the present analysis, it is the percent of “very happy” responses that are used as the major dependent indicator of one’s QOL. The 1972–2008 trends in this very happy category have proved remarkably steady over this 38-year period, averaging about 33 % across the decades, indicating not much improvement in the public’s subjective QOL, despite clear improvements in their economic standard of living and other “objective” QOL indicators like health or access to information technology (Robinson and Martin (2008). However, in the 2010 GSS, it dropped 5 points to 28 %, its lowest level reported. Moreover, Smith (2011) has provided evidence of parallel declines in several other QOL measures in that 2010 GSS survey.

Table 2 shows that these “very happy” responses have also been consistently and significantly related to both subjective time questions in each of the previous GSS surveys (1982, 1996 and 2004) in which it has been asked (unfortunately in the 2004 GSS, the happiness question was not asked of the same subsample that was asked the subjective- time questions). Thus, in the 1982 GSS, only 29 % of those always feeling rushed said they were very happy, compared to 35 % of those sometimes feeling rushed and 39 % who felt “almost never rushed”, a regular increase of 10 percentage points. Similarly in 1996, the difference was from 27 % to 33 % and to 37 %, again a regular progression of 10 points. As shown in Table 2, in the initial 1976 QOL survey from the University of Michigan, the progression was a slightly greater 13 points (from 28 to 33 to 41 %).
Table 2

Happiness by subjective time (% very happy)

(A) Individually

1976

1982

1996

2009

2010

UM

GSS

GSS

UNF

GSS

Rushed (n)

(3662)

(1848)

(1450)

(990)

(982)

 (1) Always

28

29

27

25

24

 (2) Sometimes

33

35

33

38

24

 (3) Almost never

41

39

37

41

35

DIFF 3-1

+13 pts

+10 pts

+10 pts.

+16 pts

+11 pts

Time on hands

(3002)

(1401)

NA

(990)

NA

 (1) Quite often

20

24

NA

24

NA

 (2) Now and then

33

34

NA

31

NA

 (3) Almost never

40

48

NA

39

NA

DIFF 3-1

+20 pts

+24 pts

NA

+15 pts

NA

Much the same pattern is found in both 2009–2010 surveys in Table 2, an 11 point difference in the 2010 GSS, and a larger 16 point difference in the UNF telephone survey. Moreover, a similar steady increase in feeling “very happy” is found for the time-on-hands question in the 2009 UNF survey, from the 24 % who “quite often” have time on their hands to 32 % who have such time “now and then” and 39 % who “almost never” have such time, here a 15-point difference. A somewhat sharper differential pattern (of 20–24 points) can be observed for the excess-time question—in the initial 1976 University of Michigan study (from 20 to 40 %) and the 1982 GSS (from 24 to 48 %). The excess-time question thus seems to provide more of a happiness discrepancy than the rushed question, although both remain significant predictors.

What is further surprising is the steady decrease in happiness in the 2010 GSS given the significant decline in rushed responses in Table 1. If happiness and time perception were to move in unison, one would have expected an increase in happiness when both indicators of time pressure declined as in Table 1.

1.3 Multivariate Analysis

The extent to which other, mainly demographic, factors may affect the Table 2 results is examined in Table 3, where differences in the two time questions are adjusted by the multivariate regression program in SPSS called MCA (Andrews et al. 1973). MCA was developed by survey statisticians as a way to show the “effect” of any predictor variable before and after adjustment for the effects of other predictors. In other words, it allows one to estimate the difference in happiness among those with varying perceptions of time as rushed or excess, adjusted for the many demographic predictors of happiness. The MCA program also generates a regression coefficient, β, which indicates how strong the relation with each predictor is (on a scale from 0.00 to 1.00) after adjusting for the effect of the other predictors.
Table 3

Time attitudes and demographic predictors of happiness (After MCA adjustment for the other predictors)

 

1976

1982

1996

2010

2009

 

GSS

GSS

GSS

UNF

% Very happy

30 %

32 %

30 %

28 %

36 %

Sex

0.04

0.07

0.04

0.06

0.21

 Men

28

28

28

25

26

 Women

32

35

32

30

45

Age (β)

0.10

0.11

0.08

0.11

0.11

 18–24

37

24

27

35

41

 25–34

29

28

29

30

35

 35–44

30

32

26

30

33

 45–54

24

33

30

21

29

 55–64

26

33

35

24

42

 65+

34

40

38

34

40

Educatn. (β)

0.09

0.04

0.07

0.04

0.09

 HS Inc

26

32

28

27

36

 HS grad

28

32

28

30

33

 Some college

35

31

29

26

28

 College grad

34

37

39

26

38

 Grad degree

40

27

33

25

43

Income (β)

0.09

0.12

0.07

0.14

0.09

 Low

30

25

26

17

30

 Low middle

28

27

28

27

35

 Middle

31

28

26

28

33

 High middle

29

31

29

32

42

 High

34

43

35

38

36

 NA

30

41

31

34

46

Marital (β)

0.16

0.17

0.21

0.19

0.12

 Married

35

39

39

36

40

 Divorced

22

20

20

19

29

 Separated

26

22

20

20

10

 Widowed

18

18

15

39

34

 Never married

17

28

22

20

32

Employ (β)

0.07

0.02

0.02

0.03

0.09

 Employed

32

33

33

27

41

 Not employed

25

32

31

24

32

Subjective time questions

Rushed (β)

0.12

0.11

0.08

0.11

0.15

 Almost always

22

26

25

25

24

 Only sometimes

29

31

31

26

39

 Almost never

39

34

35

38

44

Excess-time (β)

0.13

0.13

NA

NA

0.13

 Quite often

24

24

NA

NA

23

 Now and then

37

29

NA

NA

31

 Almost never

42

39

NA

NA

42

As noted above, these demographic variables have been the most widely examined and persistent predictors of the happiness question and other QOL measures, and they are found again at the top of Table 3 for the five national surveys in Table 2. First, there are the small gender differences of 4–5 points generally shown at the top of Table 3, with more women reporting themselves as very happy than men. Older respondents generally report being happier, particularly after the retirement age of 65. Happiness generally increases among those with more education, especially among those who have attended college, and among those with higher incomes. By far, the steadiest relation is with marital status, with married couples reporting most happiness among all four non-married categories. Employed people report being slightly more happy.

Not all these demographic differences emerge in each study, and it is well to remember that they may lose their original power in the multivariate MCA context of other predictors. However, what is important here is that the differences for the two subjective time questions at the bottom of Table 3 remain after they are adjusted for them. In other words, these time perception differences are now adjusted in the context of these persistent and important demographic predictors.

Perhaps what is most striking is that the Table 3 results not only persist across all five studies, but that they appear virtually unaffected by demographic predictors in each study. The “always-never” happiness β coefficients for the rushed question go from 0.12, to 0.11, to 0.08, to 0.11, to 0.15 across the five studies, and each shows a steady (monotonic) progression from “always” to “sometimes” to “never” responses. The parallel differentials for the time-on-hands question for the three studies on which both it and the happiness question were asked again tend to be slightly higher and quite consistent β value of 0.13 in all three surveys. Again, this steadiness is found across studies in which the predictive power of demographic factors varies markedly. Even for the most consistent and strongest demographic predictor of marital status, the correlation coefficients for both the rushed and time-on- hands questions can be almost as high.

1.4 Two Questions in Combination

Table 4 next examines the two subjective time questions in combination after MCA adjustment. Again this is only possible for the 1976, 1982 and 2009 surveys in which both questions were asked. It will be noted that this analysis is somewhat constrained by the excess-time question not being asked of those who replied they were “always” rushed in 1976 and 1982. That means that rather than having 9 potential categories of rushed and excess-time, there are only the 7 categories in Table 4, with those always rushed in one category versus the 6 categories created by crossing the two other rushed categories with the three excess-time categories. Thus, it is only in the 2009 UNF survey when the excess-time question was asked of those who always felt rushed that we have the complete set of 9 categories.
Table 4

Combined time attitudes and other predictors of happiness (After MCA adjustment for the other predictors)

 

1976

1982

1996

2009

2010

UMich

GSS

GSS

UNF

GSS

% Very happy

n

30 %

3692

32 %

2460

30 %

NA

36 %

998

28 %

996

Combination

     

 (1) Always rushed

25

26

NA

22

NA

  Always-often

NA

NA

 

9

 

  Always-now and then

NA

NA

 

41

 

  Always-never

NA

NA

 

25

 

  (3-1)

NA

NA

 

16

 

 (2) sometimes rushed

35

30

 

36

 

  Sometimes-often

24

25

 

32

 

  Sometimes—now and then

32

27

 

29

 

  Sometimes—never

36

35

 

43

 

  (3-1)

12

10

 

11

 

 (3) Almost never rushed

43

34

 

48

 

  Never-often

24

24

 

41

 

  Never-now and then

42

29

 

40

 

  Never-never

48

48

 

53

 

  (3-1)

24

24

 

12

 

In the simplest case, one would find that the two items interacted minimally with each other, that is with regular increases in happiness for people progressively less rushed and for people with progressively less excess time. However, the patterns in Table 4 are decidedly different from that simple outcome. For example, in the case of the 1976 Michigan sample, 24 % of those describing themselves as “sometimes rushed” and “quite often” with excess time reported being very happy compared to 36 % of those “sometimes rushed” but “almost never” having excess time. In contrast, that differential of 12 points was far lower than the 24-point spread within those groups in the “never” rushed group (48–24 %). Similarly in the 1982 GSS survey, a 12–24 point differential was found in these two rushed groups. In the 2009 UNF survey, on other hand, there was virtually no such differential (12 points vs. 11 points).

These differentials are displayed graphically in Fig. 2. In both (a) 1976 and (b) 1982, it can be seen how the increase in happiness levels by differences in the excess-time question are much sharper for those “never” rushed than for those “sometimes” rushed. That sharp inflection, however, is not found in the (c) 2009 UNF survey, where it is also the case that there is no increase in happiness between those “often” having excess time versus those only having excess time “now and then”—both among the sometimes rushed (32 vs. 29 %) and the almost never rushed (41 vs. 40 %). Thus, there are clearly different patterns of interaction across the three studies found in Table 4 and Fig. 2, particularly in the recent UNF survey.
https://static-content.springer.com/image/art%3A10.1007%2Fs11205-012-0133-6/MediaObjects/11205_2012_133_Fig2_HTML.gif
Fig. 2

Happiness by rushed and excess-time attitudes

Figure 2d is an attempt to resolve the differences in Figs. 2a–c, by combining and averaging them. It continues to reflect the different interactions involved in each of them. It again reflects the small happiness differences in the rushed question by those saying they “quite often” have excess-time and that this group as a whole is low on happiness (25 %). A slight increase in happiness is found when one feels just “somewhat rushed” (to 27–29 %), particularly so if one “almost never” has excess time (38 %). The same gain pattern is found if one “almost never” feels rushed (30–36 %), but the gains in happiness are notably largest (to 50 %) if one “almost never” has excess time on that question.

As with the results for the two individual subjective items in Table 3, the results in Table 4 generally show little difference in the combined attitudes after adjustment for the demographic predictors. This is particularly the case for the 1976 and 1982 surveys. Both continue to show the least happy group to be those who quite often have excess time, no matter how rushed for time they are. Minor increases in happiness are found for those who have excess time now and then, but the bigger improvement is found among those reporting never having excess time, especially if they have also report never being rushed. That ‘never-never’ group thus reports the highest happiness levels (50 %) across surveys, or 12–25 point higher levels than the other respondents. As noted in Fig. 2c that increase in happiness among of this never–never group is higher in 2009 (53 %) than the 48 % found in both the 1976 and 1982 surveys. In all three surveys, again, the highest consistent increases in happiness tend to be found as one moves into the “almost never” category of having excess time.

In contrast, the lowest consistent levels of happiness (22–25 %) are found among those who report “quite often” having excess time—no matter how often they feel rushed in the 1976 and 1982 surveys. In the 2009 UNF survey, the clearest increase in happiness among those who “almost never” experience extra time, but in that survey no improvement is found between those having excess time “now and then” rather than “quite often”.

The most interesting distinctions in the 2009 survey, however, again center on those in the “always rushed” group, who for the first time are now asked the excess time question. The relation now is inverted U-shaped, the persons with “now-and-then” responses reporting high (41 %) levels of happiness, even higher than those “always rushed” and “almost never” having excess time (25 %). What is more striking here, however, is the extremely low happiness level (9 %) of those “always rushed” and “quite often” having excess time. However, the latter group is represented by less than 10 (or 1 % of) respondents in 2009, reflecting unfortunate sample size problems with the 2009 survey results in general, despite its intriguing pattern of results.

(In that connection, it is well to remember the small size of the 2009 UNF survey, which is less than half or a third of the earlier surveys, and that it was conducted as a brief telephone survey, rather than the 1-h survey done in the comfort and confines of the respondents home. It was also only able to achieve a 25 % response rate, less than a third as high as in 1976 and 1982. Given these constraints, it may be remarkable that its results replicate so well those earlier in the earlier surveys).

Moreover the Table 4 results do make clear that filtering out the excess-time question from those always rushed short circuits the potential for understanding the dynamics of subjective time. It is clear that while most of those always rushed (76 %) do feel they never have excess time, not all of them do, and being able to identify those unfortunate people who quite often have excess time while feeling always rushed may provide insight to a group at the lowest happiness condition. In the present case, the two items correlate only modestly (r = 0.28), rather than unity (r = 1.00).

2 Summary and Conclusions

Analysis of two time-perception questions added on two national surveys in 2009–2010 (one in home and the other by RDD telephone) showed a surprising decline since 2004 (and the 1990s) in the proportion of US adults describing their lives as “always rushed”. This was found across a time period in which their free time, as coded from separate (ATUS) time-diary studies, also declined. In previous diary studies where increasing free time was recorded (between 1965 and 1990), rushed perceptions had increased. This, again, was the opposite pairing from what would be expected, since at the individual level, people (and groups like working women) feeling more rushed reported less free time in their time diaries.

This dual decrease in felt time pressure may then reflect the “Great American Slowdown” in American economic activity brought on by the recession after the banking crisis of 2007, as headlined in the April 10, 2008 issue of The Economist. It is mirrored as well in as the slower movements in geographic migration noted by Frey (2010). In the same vein, three of the main changes noted in the annual reports of the Americans’ Time Use Survey (e.g. ATUS 2012) since 2007 has been a decline in shopping time from 5.5 to 5.0 h per week, along with increases in sleep time (from 60 to 61 h per week) and in free time, especially TV viewing (from 18.3 to 19.3 h per week). At the same time, these are only 3–10 % changes. In other words, the Table 1 changes may just reflect how Americans generally adapt by being less active in periods of severe economic downturn. More worrisome is the possibility that these attitude shifts reflect a simple adaptation to an ever-faster pace of living. Perhaps, the pace of life has progressed to the point that Americans may not have even noticed how much more hectic daily life has become.

In more direct QOL terms, both the rushed question and its companion question asking about how often respondents felt they “had time on their hands they didn’t know what to do with” continue to relate significantly to the main measure of subjective well-being in self-reported happiness. That relation was again found in the 2009–2010 surveys at about the same level as in three previous surveys, conducted in 1976, 1982 and 1996. More importantly, these correlations with happiness were almost unaffected after multivariate adjustment for the major demographic predictors of happiness, namely marriage, age, education, income, race, gender and employment status. In other words, people who were less rushed and with less excess time reported themselves as more happy after these demographic factors were taken into account. Subjective time is significantly linked to QOL, not only in happiness in the present study, but to several other QOL measures in the extensive set of satisfaction (such as life satisfaction, free time satisfaction and satisfaction with one’s self or neighborhood) and other QOL measures available in the Campbell et al. (1978) national survey. One should hope that these subjective-time questions would be included if that classic study is ever replicated.

Particularly intriguing results emerged when these two subjective-time questions were combined in the 2009 UNF study. Again after multivariate adjustment, lowest happiness levels were found among those saying they “quite often” had excess time. Higher happiness was found for respondents saying they only hād excess time “now and then”, and still higher happiness among those saying they almost never had excess time—particularly if they also reported almost never being rushed. In both the recent 2009 survey, and in the larger and more exacting 1976 and 1982 in-home surveys, then, this ‘never-never’ group reported the highest happiness levels. The proportions of never–never respondents in the whole of these samples totals only 8–12 %, indicating they are a small and unusual minority within the general population.

One innovation in the 2009 survey that clearly needs replication in future studies is the inclusion of the excess-time question to those respondents who said they always felt rushed. Although it is the case that more than 75 % of those always rushed respondents also report almost never having excess time, those who do rush and do feel excess time seem to be in a very precarious QOL position. While <10 (1 %) of them were counted in the 2009 UNF survey, their apparently contradictory beliefs seemed to produce an unparalleled level of unhappiness. The correlation between the rushed and excess-time questions is high by attitude-measurement standards, but it is not 1.00, and those newly identified persons are a most interesting group to study given their daily psychological challenge.

Acknowledgments

The research in this article was made possible by grant R24HD41041 from the National Institutes of Health and by the support of Prof. Sandra Hofferth of the Maryland Population Research Center and Prof. Paul Harwood formerly at the University of North Florida.

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012