Time use and happiness: Evidence across three decades
Jeehoon Han and
No qjdmu, SocArXiv from Center for Open Science
We use large-scale diary data from a representative sample of Americans to proxy welfare at the level of individual activities. We make three contributions. First, we examine the association between individual activities and happiness, and show how this association has changed over time. Compared to 1985, domestic work and social care produce more happiness today. Watching TV produces less happiness today than it used to. Second, we combine activity-level data on happiness and time allocation to construct a measure of ‘time-weighted happiness’. We then analyse historical trends in this measure across population groups, particularly gender. We observe that, over the last 35 years, women’s time-weighted happiness has improved significantly relative to men’s. This trend is largely driven by gendered shifts in time allocation, rather than heterogenous trends in the enjoyability of individual activities. Our result is in stark contrast to previous work which showed a decline in women’s relative wellbeing. To explain this, our third contribution is to compare the determinants of life satisfaction – a global measure on which most previous work is built – with our measure of time-weighted happiness. Time-weighted happiness and life satisfaction turn out to only be weakly correlated. Moreover, although we obtain strong associations of income and employment status with life satisfaction, no such associations can be observed for time-weighted happiness. These findings highlight the importance of distinguishing between happiness as experienced in time and more global wellbeing measures. Finally, we verify the robustness our results by replicating them in data from the United Kingdom and show that our results are robust to alternative assumptions about how people use happiness scales.
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