Monday, 27 June 2011

Work, sex and fun: a day at a glance

By Maxime Ladaique, Manager of statistical resources in the OECD Directorate of Employment, Labour and Social Affairs (

One way to go beyond purely economic indicators, such as GDP, to measure well-being and progress is to present indicators on quality of life. In recent editions of OECD’s Society at a Glance, we’ve looked at how adults spend their days in OECD countries, using time-use surveys. In which country do people work longest, spend most time eating, drinking and sleeping, or spend most time just having fun? And importantly, are there gender differences in the time spent in these three main activities? Warning: reading this blog may leave you with the desire to change country, change the way you spend your time at home, or even change sex…

Firstly: work. Out of 24 hours, we spend on average eight hours working: one third of the day. And who works the most? MEX! Yes, it’s Mexico, with 10 hours of work per day earning money or doing unpaid work like housework, cooking or caring for children. Japan and Korea are next, with more than nine hours of work per day on average.

We spend on average three and a half hours per day on unpaid tasks. What’s interesting here is the difference between men and women. And you’ve guessed it; on average women spend two and a half hours more every day in these unpaid activities. The highest gap can be found in Turkey and Mexico, where women spend four and a half hours more than men per day doing housework, cooking and caring for children.

The second main activity is personal care. This is mainly sleeping, eating and drinking, and also looking after yourself (hygiene, grooming, etc.). It represents, on average, almost half of our time, that’s 11 hours per day. Most of these 11 hours are spent sleeping; on average eight and a half hours. I say sleeping, but the question in the survey is actually “time in bed”. And you’ve guessed it again; it may not be only sleeping… Which country spends most time in bed? France. Yes, the French report one hour more in bed than the Koreans, who sleep the least. [Interestingly enough, France has the highest fertility rate in OECD-Europe after Ireland and Iceland with almost 2 children per woman, and Korea has the lowest fertility rate in the OECD at 1.15 children per woman].

The French also enjoy eating and drinking, and report doing this for more than two hours a day on average. This is nearly twice as much time spent eating and drinking in Canada or in the US, with only a little over one hour per day. But only one in ten French are obese, whereas one third of Americans are obese, the highest rate in the OECD. The French do spend time eating at home with family or in “brasseries” (from which I’m writing you in Paris) for business. This is part of the French culture.

The third and last main activity is leisure, which takes most of the remaining four to five hours per day in most countries. This is time spent reading books, newspapers or blogs, watching TV or listening to the radio, practising sport, or socialising with friends. Norwegians spend the longest time on leisure activities, up to six hours per day, while Mexicans spend the shortest time with only four hours per day (remember, Mexicans work the most!). But what’s most interesting is again the gender difference in leisure time. In all countries, men spend more time having fun. In Norway, only by a few minutes, but in Italy, men spend almost the duration of a football match everyday more than Italian women enjoying themselves (80 minutes on average).

Thanks for taking a bit of your precious time to read this blog. Now you know that Mexicans, Japanese and Koreans spend the longest time working. You also know more about the French way of living, we enjoy having a good time. And you know that there are less gender differences in leisure times in Nordic countries than in Mediterranean countries. Is it surprising?

You can see more figures on leisure and unpaid work activities in OECD’s Society at a Glance. They are part of the new interest by statisticians to go beyond GDP and measure well-being and progress with information on the people‘s quality of life. I hope these indicators will contribute to the progress of our societies. So please don’t change country or indeed sex, but make things change at home!  I wish you all the very best work, food, sleep and fun for the remainder of the day.

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