General Social Survey: Time use patterns of older Canadians

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July 26, 2006 – More individuals aged 55 to 64 were working later in life and spending less time in leisure activities in 2005. Both men and women were spending roughly an hour a day more in paid work than they were in 1998.

In fact, during the past decade or so, time use patterns of these older Canadians have shifted, in some cases significantly. The study, based on data from the 2005 General Social Survey (GSS) on time use, showed that older men and women have adjusted their time patterns in different ways over time.

For example, among men aged 55 to 64, this increase in paid work from 3.2 to 4.4 hours a day on average was accompanied by a decline in the time they devoted to both unpaid work and active leisure. In 2005, these men spent 3.5 hours a day on average in active leisure, half an hour less than they did in 1998. During this period, the time spent on unpaid work declined from 3.4 to 3.1 hours a day on average.

Among women of the same age, the biggest impact was a decline of more than half an hour a day in the time they devoted to active leisure. They spent most of their time (about 4.8 hours a day on average) on unpaid work, exactly the same as in both 1998 and 1992. In 2005, they spent 2.4 hours a day on average on paid work, up about an hour from 1992. But their time for active leisure fell from 4.3 hours to 3.6 hours.

Time-use estimates in the study were based on information collected last year in the GSS. Approximately 6,550 respondents aged 55 and over recorded in a diary a comprehensive account of all their activities in the day before they were interviewed as part of the survey. Time spent on various activities are averaged over a seven-day week period.

Findings from the time use survey reflected data from the Labour Force Survey showing that employment for older workers aged 55 and over has increased.

In 2005, two-thirds (68%) of men aged 55 to 64 had jobs, up from 59% in 1998. Among their female counterparts, 51% had jobs in 2005, compared with 41% six years earlier.

Individuals aged 65 to 74: Demands on their days change

As men and women move into retirement, the demands on their days change. For example, people aged 65 to 74 devote much less time to paid work than they did when they were 55 to 64. This translates into more time spent on both unpaid work around the house and leisure time.

In 2005, men in this age group devoted about an hour a day on average to paid work, well below the 4.4 hours for the age group 55 to 64. At the same time, they spent 3.9 hours on average on unpaid work in 2005, up from 3.1 hours for the younger group.

Men in the older age group devoted 4.1 hours on average to active leisure last year, up from 3.5 hours in the younger group. They also devoted a full hour a day more to “passive leisure” time, such as reading and watching television, than the younger group.

Among women, on the other hand, the time devoted to paid work fell to less than half an hour on average. With this extra time, women in the older age group found half an hour extra each day for active leisure pursuits, and nearly a full hour extra for passive leisure time. The amount of time doing unpaid work in 2005 remained the same from one cohort to the other, at 4.8 hours on average.

The survey showed that time use patterns within the age group of 65 to 74 alone did not change substantially between 1992 and 2005. There was a small increase in the amount of paid work for these people and a corresponding small decline in leisure.

Satisfaction with life among seniors

Health is recognized as a key resource to the concept of aging well. It has also been found to be a strong predictor of the type and level of activity people engage in.

Consequently, the GSS asked respondents to indicate how healthy they felt on a scale of one to five. They were also asked to rate how satisfied they were with their life overall.

The study found that about one-fifth of men and women aged 55 to 64 and 65 to 74 reported that they were both satisfied with their life, and that they were in good health. At the other end of the scale, 4 out of every 10 men and women aged 55 to 64 and 65 to 74 reported that they were not satisfied with their life overall, and that they did not feel healthy.

Another 40% of these older Canadians reported something in between. That is, some reported they were healthy, but felt less satisfied with their life. Others said they were satisfied with their life but did not feel healthy. Thus, individuals do not necessarily require good health to be satisfied with their life, and good health does not guarantee a high level of life satisfaction.

Based on people’s ratings of their life satisfaction, the study showed there is no optimal set of activities for everyone. Generally, the fit or balance of activities for healthy, satisfied women included less time on paid work for working age women than their healthy, less satisfied counterparts, and more time on active leisure like cognitive and physical activities. For healthy, satisfied men there was no consistent set of activities across the age groups.

Less healthy and less satisfied men and women for all age groups consistently spent the most time on passive leisure.

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