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Social Change and Everyday Life

Final Report Summary - SCAEL (Social Change and Everyday Life)

Economic activity provides for the satisfaction of human wants. Paid and unpaid work, plus leisure/consumption activities (which together sum to the 24 hours of the day) constitute three “factors of provision”—which we might think of as conceptually parallel to Adam Smith’s (land, labour and capital) “factors of production”. Each “act of final provision” requires a specific combination of paid work (to purchase the necessary commodities), unpaid work time (to prepare and deploy these for consumption), with the related consumption time. Time diaries provide exhaustive evidence of specific activity types, locations, co-presence, enjoyability and other characteristics, together with their rhythms and timings through the day, the week and the year. We use these to investigate the relationship of alternative technologies—alternative “modes of provision for wants”—to individual characteristics, human capital and family statuses in various countries and historical periods.

We can combine the evidence of unpaid work time and consumption from the time diaries with evidence of household final expenditure, conventional input-output tables and occupational activity distributions estimates from Labour Force Surveys—to produce, for the first time, empirical estimates of the “chains of provision for wants”. These estimates constitute an alternative to the conventional money-based System of National Accounts—a comprehensive time-based approach to national accounting which provides answers to criticisms of more partial measures such as GNP. It also provides distributional estimates—since paid and unpaid labour contributes to the satisfaction of the wants of others—of flows of time between social groups, providing the empirical basis for estimating the “organic solidarity” described by Durkheim in The Division of Labour in Society.

We have collected, and are continuously adding to, the Multinational Time Use Study, with evidence of the time use patterns of the populations of 25 developed countries over more than 60 years. This is by far the largest collection of time use data anywhere in the world. We find remarkably regular historical changes in the chains of provision for wants: work time shifts progressively from the paid to the unpaid category; men and women do approximately the same amount of work in total, with women specialising more in unpaid but nevertheless the gender proportions gradually converging through historical time; and, unexpectedly, the total of work time (paid plus unpaid) remains remarkably stable—at around 8 hours per day. These findings are unique to our study, and indeed, could not be derived from any other sorts of empirical evidence.