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Revealed: These graphics show how Australians spend their time

Women still spend significantly more time doing housework than men.

Women still spend significantly more time doing housework than men. Photo: TND

Australians are spending more time working and playing than they were 16 years ago, but less time eating and doing unpaid chores.

That’s what we learned from fresh Bureau of Statistics (ABS) data on Friday about how Australians are spending their time.

The first such research since 2006, the figures detail how we’re juggling daily work, sleep, chores, caring responsibilities and leisure activities.

It reveals that we’re spending less time, on average, doing things like eating, drinking and shopping for food, which has freed up more of our days for working, socialising, watching TV and browsing the internet.

But persistent gender divides remain. Women are still doing much more unpaid work than men and have about 30 minutes less free time a day.

These graphics show how Australians were spending their time in 2021, when the ABS took its most recent survey.

Work, chores, leisure, sleep

The ABS splits our lives into four broad categories, including “necessary time”, such as sleeping and eating; “contracted time”, such as our work; “committed time”, which captures unpaid labour and caring; and finally “free time”, which broadly encompasses leisure and our social activities.

The latest data reveals that over the past 16 years we’ve progressively spent less time on necessary activities (eating) and on domestic chores.

On average, Australians are spending about 21 minutes less each day eating and drinking than they were in 2006, and about 11 minutes less preparing meals.

That surplus time has been poured into more free time and working.

In 2006, Australians had about 20.5 per cent of their day for free time, and in 2021 that figure had increased to 21.3 per cent of the day.

Angela Jackson, lead economist at Impact Economics, suggested that these changes could be explained by big changes in how we approach daily life, including fewer family meals and more online food shopping.

But Dr Jackson cautioned that the figures were captured during the COVID-19 pandemic, and so could be skewed by lockdown restrictions.

“There’s lifestyle factors here, [but] spending time enjoying a family meal is probably quite good for wellbeing in a structured way,” she said.

“So while it’s a good time saving in terms of productivity it might not be the best overall pay-off in terms of our health.”

Persistent gender divides

One trend that remains in the data between 2006 and 2021 is a massive gender divide in the way Australians are spending their time.

Women, on average, do much more unpaid labour and much less paid work than men. They also have less free time at the end of each day.

In 2021 women spent about four hours and 31 minutes a day doing unpaid work, which is far higher than the three hours and 12 minutes seen for men.

And less than half of men (42 per cent) did housework, compared to 70 per cent of women.

“Mothers spent an average of three hours and 34 minutes participating in childcare activities a day, while fathers spent two hours and 19 minutes,” ABS director of social surveys and statistics Lisa Scanlon said.

Dr Jackson said it’s clear there are still big economic and human opportunities for women to take on more paid work and men to take on a larger share of unpaid labour across the economy.

“We’re certainly seeing an increase in women’s paid work activity, which is good, but it isn’t that significant over a 16 year period,” she said.

“We’re seeing progress, but it remains pretty slow in terms of closing that gender gap and we still see women with less free time than men.”

More free time to do what?

One interesting finding from the latest data is that Australians have more free time now than they did 16 years ago. But what are we doing with it?

Well, according to the ABS,  we’re spending about half of it watching TV and other videos, and about a quarter socialising with friends and family.

The remaining quarter of free time is being spent on a mix of exercise, reading, hobbies and playing games (both video games and physical ones).

It is difficult to make direct comparisons with the 2006 data because the ABS has changed its survey methods, but the 2021 figures do indicate we’re spending far more time socialising these days than 16 years ago.

The nature of that social activity seems to have changed though, we’re spending more time socialising at home (presumably over the internet) and less time going out to eat or visiting other entertainment venues.

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