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Where Has Time Gone?
Survey reveals difference in how people spend their average day
By Wang Hairong  ·  2019-02-15  ·   Source: NO. 8 FEBRUARY 21, 2019
Women in Datong City, north China's Shanxi Province, take part in square dancing on October 9, 2018 (XINHUA)

After a weeklong hiatus, the Shangdi area in Beijing's Haidian District became abuzz with activities as people returned from their Chinese New Year holiday. During the morning rush hour, young people jumped off buses and hurried into nearby office buildings, while elderly citizens, dragging shopping trolleys, flocked into nearby grocery stores.

Despite the dancing snowflakes, a phenomenon rarely seen in the capital, Guo Jie kicked off her day as usual, square dancing in a small park on the morning of February 12. The retired accountant told Beijing Review that every morning she spends 1 to 2 hours dancing.

"Blow, northern wind, blow; fly snowflakes, fly," she hummed a tune while asking a woman to play the song as it was just right for the day's weather. Dressed in red tracksuits, she and three other women in their 60s and 70s concluded their exercise routine with a group photo against the snowy background.

Guo thinks exercising has brought her both physical and psychological benefits. "It guards me against diseases and makes me happy," she said.

The time Guo spends on exercising every day is more than double that of the national average—30 minutes for women and 41 for urban women, as a national survey on how people spend their time shows. The findings of the survey, the second of its kind in China, were released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) on January 25.

"The survey reflects the time residents put in various activities, which provides a new dimension for observing their daily life, gauging economic and social changes, and evaluating the improvement in people's livelihood," senior NBS statistician Jin Hong said.


Zou Xiaojuan, a train attendant working overtime during the Spring Festival travel rush, receives dinner prepared by her husband on January 22 (XINHUA)

Time tidings

The survey was conducted on a work day and a non-work day in May 2018. It covered 48,580 people in 11 provincial-level regions on the Chinese mainland. Participants were asked to log their activities around the clock on the two days. They had to also include whether they used the Internet and who they were with during the activities.

Since not all respondents engaged in all activities on the two days surveyed, the participation rates of the activities were also reported, Jin said.

The activities were sorted into six categories, with the average time spent on each noted. It was found that activities to meet physiological needs took up nearly half a day, the longest among the six categories. On average, people spent 11 hours and 53 minutes on such activities, which included sleeping, resting, personal hygiene and eating.

The category that took the second longest time was paid work, either employment activities or family production and business activities. On average, residents spent 4 hours and 24 minutes, 18.3 percent of their daily time, on such activities. The participation rate in paid work was 64.5 percent on the work day and 45.1 percent on the non-work day.

The survey indicates that an average Chinese spent 7 hours and 41 minutes on employment activities. The finding did not vary significantly by gender, between urban and rural areas, as well as between work and non-work days.

In addition, respondents on average spent 2 hours and 42 minutes, or 11.3 percent of a day, on unpaid work. This covered housework, taking care of adult family members, purchasing goods or services, seeing the doctor and charitable activities. For parents, taking care of children, escorting them to and back from after-school classes and tutoring them were the major responsibilities.

They also spent 3 hours and 56 minutes, or 16.4 percent of a day, on personal discretionary activities, primarily leisure, fitness and networking; 27 minutes, or 1.9 percent of a day, on studying and training; and 38 minutes, 2.7 percent of a day, on the road, mainly commuting.

However, since the survey reported only the average time spent on certain activities, the results may not correspond to the experience of specific individuals or groups. For instance, although the survey shows that an average resident worked 4 hours and 24 minutes, a security guard surnamed Li told Beijing Review that his typical work day is much longer.

"Every day, I start work at 7 a.m. and wrap up at 10 p.m.," said the middle-aged man from Binzhou City in east China's Shandong Province, who has been working in Beijing for four years. Because he is paid by the hour, he often opts to work extra time to make more money. He explained that his family members are not with him in Beijing, and he does not have anything particularly fun to do in his spare time, so he chooses to work longer. He remained on duty during the Chinese New Year holiday, for which he could get triple pay.


Trends of change

The survey sheds light on a number of social patterns such as the difference between the roles men and women play at home, and between the lives of urban and rural residents.

It suggests that modern family life is still characterized by the traditional gender-based division of labor: Men work mainly outside the house and women play the main role in taking care of their home.

On average, women spent 3 hours and 48 minutes on unpaid work, much more than the 1 hour and 32 minutes spent by men. The participation rate in unpaid work was 55.3 percent for men and 84.2 percent for women.

Of all types of unpaid work, the difference in gender roles was mainly reflected by the difference in time spent on housework and childcare. According to the survey, women spent an average of 2 hours and 6 minutes on housework, while men 45 minutes; women spent an average of 53 minutes taking care of children, while men 17 minutes.

The digital divide between urban and rural areas was evident. The survey demonstrates that urban residents spent an average of 3 hours and 23 minutes on the Internet daily, much longer than the 1 hour and 38 minutes spent by rural residents.

Compared with results of the previous survey in 2008, the new one uncovers some longitudinal trends.

Jin said people now use more time to meet their physiological needs, indicating a healthier lifestyle. The time spent on paid work has reduced due to improved labor productivity.

People also share more time with family members, Jin said. In 2018, the respondents said they spent 53 minutes with family members, which was much more than the 30 minutes reported a decade ago.

Nowadays, parents attach more importance to childcare and child education and spend a significant amount of time on this. There is a saying in Beijing that in their spare time, parents are either sitting with their children in after-school classes or are on the way to or from such classes. Xing Ying, a graphic designer in Beijing, told Beijing Review that he usually spends 1.5 hours accompanying his daughter to after-school classes during weekdays, and about 6 hours on Saturdays.

On the other hand, rapid development of the service industry such as food delivery has contributed to reducing the time spent on housework, Jin said.

Compared with a decade ago, people spend more time on leisure and fitness activities now, less time on commuting, and remarkably more time on the Internet.

In 2008, people on average spent only 14 minutes on the Internet; in 2018, it jumped to 2 hours and 42 minutes.

The surveys will also help cross-country comparisons as other countries have conducted similar studies. For instance, comparing the time Chinese, Japanese and U.S. men and women spend on unpaid work can reveal cultural differences, NBS official Zhang Zhongliang said.

Copyedited by Sudeshna Sarkar

Comments to wanghairong@bjreview.com

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