Study Finds Women Have More Free Time, but Feel More Rushed Than Ever

Finding personal time between work and family obligations is a balancing act many women have tried to perfect for ages. The stress of trying to find time for everyone and everything can be overwhelming and cause anxiety among even the most organized women. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that a study published recently in the Journal of Marriage and Family found that even with more free time, women still feel rushed.

The authors of the study, Liana Sayer, assistant professor of sociology at Ohio State University, and Marybeth Mattingly of the University of Maryland, looked at data from time diaries from two different surveys – one done from 1975-76 and one from 1998-99. Sayer said she and Mattingly decided to conduct the study based on a popular debate concerning whether people in today’s society are more or less rushed than they were in past years. “We wanted to get some good, empirical evidence on that issue,” she said.

The first survey included interviews with 708 people done by the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan. The second survey was done by the Survey Research Center at the University of Maryland. That one included interviews with 1,151 people across the country. Each survey asked participants to fill out a diary detailing how they spent their time over a period of 24 hours. They were asked how often they felt rushed in a day, with the option of choosing never, sometimes and always. Free time was measured as time that was not spent eating, sleeping, doing household chores, caring for children or doing paid work.

The result was that pressures on women increased from 1975 to 1998 and a 30-minute gender gap in the amount of free time between men and women by 1998. “Women worked more hours in paid employment in 1998 than they did in 1975,” Sayer said. “The amount of time they spend in household labor declined during that period, but not enough to offset the increase in paid work hours.”

And although men had an increase in the amount of child care and housework in their daily routines, they also had less time allotted to paid work, leaving the amount of free time they have daily virtually unchanged. However, the study showed that even women who had more free time that others, still felt rushed much of the time. This came as a surprise to the study’s authors. “We were surprised with the result of the study that showed that women having more free time did not make them feel less rushed,” said Sayer.

She says this could have something to do with the different ways women and men view childcare and household chores. Women still feel compelled to participate in childcare and household chores, even when men are pitching in more than they have in the past. This degrades the quality of free time significantly. “It’s not that women don’t enjoy spending free time with their children, but it is a different experience than spending time with friends,” Sayer said. “Among mothers, free time may be too entangled with caregiving to be the ‘pause that refreshes.”

Sayer said she hopes the study, and others like it, help to influence U.S. policies regarding work and family. “We live in a culture that values time at work over time with family,” she said. “We are hoping that research in the same vein as ours bolsters the case for this country to institute more flexible workplace policies, with regard to family life.”

Dr. John Grohol, a clinical psychologist, agrees with the notion that women have a hard time separating their free time from time spent with children without feeling guilty. “I suspect that sometimes women have more difficulty relaxing than men because of that mothering/nurture instinct that many, but not all, women possess,” he said. “Such an instinct tends to drive women to take on and do more than I think an ordinary man would, because there is a sense that if they don’t do it, it won’t get done.”

Grohol also offers a theory that some women have a hard time saying “no.” This can also contribute to a feeling of being rushed, even when there is downtime to be had. According to Grohol, this comes from a difficulty with assertiveness and in some cases, from lower self-esteem than others. “Some women feel like that if they have to turn someone down, that means they’re not good and the other person might not like them as much,” he said. “I know it sounds juvenile and basic, but sometimes that’s the level we operate at when it comes to our own personas and how we see ourselves. Finding ways to increase one’s own self-esteem and learning to become more assertive can help with this.”

For some women, not finding enough balance and feeling rushed, despite more available personal time, is an issue of control. Being involved in all daily aspects of work, childcare, household chores and more means having a sense of control over their lives. This can sometimes become more important than finding a sense of daily balance and free time. “Saying “No” also means that they have to let go of some things and not be in control of everything. Some people like to be in control of almost every little thing in their lives, and part of that means they don’t feel comfortable delegating any task, even the most menial or basic of them,” said Grohol. “Delegation means giving up some control, and doing that means they have to change a core part of who they are. Some people can do that in small steps, gradually over time. But it takes time and patience for a person to move from trying to control everything to learning to let go of some things so that they can focus on the most important things in their lives.”

In addition to learning to delegate, time management is a key factor in being able to accomplish a healthy balance between work, family, household tasks and personal time. Tracy Lyn Moland, author of “Mom Management, Managing Mom Before Everybody Else” and a speaker, wife and mother of two, says women often feel guilty about taking time out for themselves. “Women should think of themselves like a bank,” said Moland. “With a bank account, if you don’t put anything in, there won’t be anything in it. It’s the same philosophy with women. If we don’t learn to take time to fill ourselves with energy and happiness, we end up with nothing to give back to other people.”

Moland says women have to change their attitudes about scheduling in personal time. “There are so many opportunities today for women to do and be anything. You have to decide what your priorities are and stick with that. You don’t have to do and be everything,” she said. “You will get more done when you schedule time for yourself. And when you have some “me” time and you truly enjoy it, you will be a better wife, mother, employee and friend to everyone in your life.”

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