Shut Up, Kid, I’m Reading

Just as I suspected: Americans are not more intent on spending time with family than they were before 9/11. You wouldn’t gather this from polls that explicitly ask them if they’ve become more family-centric. But no wonder, since it’s so obvious that the “correct” answer is to say one is devoted as never before to spouse and children. We get a different picture from an annual Harris poll that asks people to identify their “two or three most favorite leisure-time activities.” In this year’s survey (fielded in August), 11 percent of respondents included “spending time with family/kids” among their favorites—1 percent fewer than did so in last year’s poll and down a couple notches from the 14 percent recorded in 2000. (Of course, it’s possible people are spending more time with family and not particularly enjoying it, but we’ll tiptoe around that thought for now.) How do people say they like to spend their leisure time? As in previous years, reading gets the most mentions (26 percent). Watching television ranks second, but its tally (15 percent) is down significantly from 2001 (20 percent) and 2000 (23 percent). Fishing and gardening tied for fourth place (8 percent apiece), but they’ve both lost ground since the 1990s. As recently as 1999, gardening was cited by 15 percent of respondents and fishing by 13 percent. Filling out the top 10: playing team sports, going to movies, swimming, golfing and socializing with friends/neighbors. “Computer activities” dropped out of the top 10 as its vote fell from 7 percent last year to 4 percent this time. When respondents were asked how much time they have per week for leisure activities (including simple relaxation), the median answer was 20 hours—just as it had been in the previous three years. In fact, polling on this matter offers no empirical support for anecdotal laments that leisure time is diminishing year by year. As Harris remarks in its analysis of the data, respondents’ average estimate of their free hours per week “has not been higher than 20 or lower than 19 since 1989.”