Experts gather to reveal how we use our time

Published 26 November 2008

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Researchers from more than 20 countries will meet in Sydney next week to discuss the latest information about how people use their time, and how time use is changing.

The time spent by men, women and children around the world in activities including paid employment, volunteer work, eating and drinking, housework, leisure and holidays, watching television, travelling to and from work, and caring for the sick and elderly will be discussed in revealing detail at the annual conference of the International Association for Time Use Research (IATUR).

Professor Michael Bittman from the University of New England, the President of IATUR and the convener of the conference, said the world’s leading figures in time use research – both from universities and from national statistical agencies – would be attending the conference. It will be held at Sydney’s Wesley Conference Centre on the 1st, 2nd and 3rd of December.

Professor Bittman, from UNE’s School of Behavioural, Cognitive and Social Sciences, explained that time use researchers ask people to keep a record of their activities throughout a day (or several days) – usually by keeping a diary. “Analysing these records gives us irreplaceable information about things we otherwise find difficult to measure,” he said, “such as the hours that we Australians put in to shopping, housework and child care, and how we spend our leisure time.”

The conference will provide answers to questions such as: “Has the amount of time people spend travelling remained the same in Sydney over the last 25 years?”, “Is there any escape from traditional gender roles in the division of housework?”, and “Does time use help predict depressive illness among adolescents?”

A paper to be presented in the first session by government-employed researchers from the United States will examine eating patterns in relation to obesity. In the following session, Professor Bittman’s UNE colleague Jude Brown will discuss television viewing patterns among young Australian children. Succeeding sessions will hear papers on diverse aspects of time use in New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Portugal, Norway, Japan, Denmark, Germany, France, Canada, India, Korea, Belgium, Finland, Slovenia, Romania, Brazil, China, and The Netherlands.

IATUR, formed in 1970, promotes the analysis of daily activities in order to learn how different groups of people juggle work and family responsibilities, and how people have changed their activities over time.