The New StatesmanThe New Statesman

The politics of free time

By Anoosh Chakelian

01 Apr 2023 · 6 min read

'How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives,' wrote Annie Dillard. The New Statesman offers insight — both intuitive and counter-intuitive — into what we do when we're not working.

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Since 1974, the UK has suffered a four-decade decline in socialising. “Time-use diaries”, where individuals note down their activities each day in sequential ten-minute intervals, expose a widespread loss and distortion of our free time.

In 1961, the BBC wanted to know when people were most available for TV and radio transmissions, so it commissioned members of the public to fill in printed structured diary booklets. A decade later, the social researcher Dr Jonathan Gershuny reanalysed this data, and began in 1974 to gather time diaries from 10,000 people. This large-scale UK survey is still collected today by the Centre for Time Use Research; it reveals how people aged eight and over spend their time.

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