MACLEAN'S POLL 2006

HOW WE LIVE

We're more worried about a lack of time than about money, health or our children. Still, we make time to watch TV, and to sit and think. As for sex, well, it's just that we're so busy.

BARBARA RIGHTON July 1 2006
MACLEAN'S POLL 2006

HOW WE LIVE

We're more worried about a lack of time than about money, health or our children. Still, we make time to watch TV, and to sit and think. As for sex, well, it's just that we're so busy.

BARBARA RIGHTON July 1 2006

HOW WE LIVE

MACLEAN'S POLL 2006

We're more worried about a lack of time than about money, health or our children. Still, we make time to watch TV, and to sit and think. As for sex, well, it's just that we're so busy.

BARBARA RIGHTON

Way back in 1975, when Reginald Bibby did the first of what he likes to call his “aerial photographs” of Canadian life, email was only a gleam in the eye of some übersmart infant. Ditto the cellphone, the laptop and the BlackBerry. Living was easy. Or at least it was slower. Last November, when Bibby, a sociology prof at the University of Lethbridge, finished his seventh national survey, he discovered two central truths. The first was no surprise to him, though it may be surprising to the rest of us: Canadians valued their own personal freedom above everything, including family life and love. But this was as it had been in 1985, when he first asked the question. The second was a sore point, and it was new. More than money, their health or their children, Canadians told Bibby, they worried about time. Thanks to a multitude of stressors, they didn’t have enough hours in the day to spend with

* WHAT’S IMPORTANT TO TEACH OUR CHILDREN: Responsibility for one’s actions Politeness Concern for others Good manners Leaving the world in better shape

WHAT BOTHERS US THE MOST? Lack of time Lack of money Health Our children Loneliness

their families, never mind their friends or colleagues or their own interests.

On a list of 19 personal concerns, the No. 1 worry of people from 18 to 55 was never having enough time. Slightly more than half thought they were busier than their parents. Sixty-four per cent reported they almost never had extra time. Says Bibby, “The per ception is that people are now working at a pace they have never experienced before.” He calls it being “pathologically overextended.” That’s one aspect—an alltoo-familiar one—of our lives today. But what of our goals and our aspirations? What do we actually do with the time we have} The data paint a curious picture of the shapes of our lives. When we are not holed up at the office, working at a frenetic pace, we are barricaded in our homes. There is a new focus on the bottom line: in every endeavour we want to know what’s in it for us. Seventy-five per cent of Canadians told Bibby they have to look after themselves since they can’t rely on anyone else to do it. Only 55 per cent said that people were as kind as they used to be. And in terms of simple cour-

tesy, only 36 per cent thought the general population was as courteous today as in days gone by.

Busyness is undeniably part of the story. Blame the time crunch on technology and its promise to make our lives better. Bibby does. Technology has betrayed us, he says, and made our lives more hectic. In the latest instalment of his study Project Canada, Bibby writes, “Cellphones, laptops, software and portable printers have taken away our hiding places.” And they have left us juggling our family commitments and jobs while trying to do everything faster in a more demanding society. In fact, being overextended is trendy. Overwork has become our culture, says University of Guelph professor Kerry Daly, a family sociologist and author of Families in Time: Keeping Pace in a Hurried Culture. “It’s normal now to be somewhat busy. It’s a badge of honour that says we are in the game.” Canadian business now runs on adrenalin, Bibby says. And the intensity we feel every day on the job is not ameliorated by the presence of workplace pals, says Bibby. A good interpersonal relationship is not the payoff it once was. Neither is company loyalty. These days when people get a better offer, they just pack up and go. Often, the same is true of the companies they work for. Maybe because the flat-out pace is so hard to maintain, some Canadians surveyed by Bibby have lost their career aspirations as they’ve grown older. Among young adults, 59 per cent said a rewarding career was very important, while only 49 per cent of boomer men still felt that way. Among older women, a different dynamic came into play: 55 per cent of boomer women, the ones who had to struggle to prove themselves 30 years ago, were as passionate about their work as ever.

of Canadians get seven to eight hours of sleep a night.

21% get by on just six

Our home lives, too, are hectic. While we want close relationships and creature comforts, Bibby says, the two often conflict. If the comfortable life is to be maintained, the time with the kids is shortened from a promised day at the beach to an hour of “quality time” before bed. Not coincidentally, when they

HOW OFTEN DO WE HAVE SEX? Daily Several times a week Weekly Monthly or less Hardly ever or never

were asked about their views of parenting, only 60 per cent of Canadians said today’s parents were doing a good job, compared with 89 per cent who said parents in the past did a good job.

Failing to live up to our promises or fit everything in, says Alan Mirabelli, executive director of the Vanier Institute of the Family in Ottawa, is about time, but also about energy. We’re just too tired by the time we get home. “People work too hard because they’re afraid they will lose their jobs if they don’t,” Mirabelli says. “Now people take work home and link themselves to the office. Where is the satisfaction either at home or at work?”

WHO NEVER SEEMS TO HAVE ENOUGH TIME? Employed married mothers Employed married fathers Employed cohabitating mothers Employed separated or divorced mothers

Harried as we are, we do seem to spend a fair number of hours at home on relaxing activities. More than half of us say we have the time to just sit and think every single day. One in five of us spends 16 to 30 hours a week—that’s between two and four hours a day—watching TV. Forty-nine per cent put in between 1V2 and two hours a day. But any survey of how we’re doing has to factor in both reality and expectations. And then, in fairness, two hours of TV doesn’t necessarily mean lounging on the couch watching Desperate Housewives and Grey’s Anatomy, glass of wine in hand, Bibby says. We’re probably multi-tasking: half listening to the TV while helping the kids with their homework, tapping away at laptops and reading the newspaper.

Young people—the 18-34 age group—are the most worried about time (57 per cent), and women in general, says Bibby, are possibly the most time-deprived. There is a curious distinction between married mothers and mothers who are separated or divorced. Employed married mothers are the busiest: 77 per cent of them say they never seem to have enough time (versus only 58 per cent of employed married fathers). Astonishingly, fewer employed separated or divorced mothers (58 per cent) complain of the same problem. Who’s to blame? “The conventional explanation is that husbands are not giving wives the kind of help they need,” Bibby says. “Women are dealing with the notion of the double day.” In other words, work all day at work and work all night at home. “The sheer volume isn’t being shared.”

Daly doesn’t necessarily agree.

“There are higher levels of involvement by fathers,” he says. Yes, moms do still spend more time, but j “a lot of dads are doing a good job of co-parenting now and facing the same stresses.” The kids are all right, Daly says, especially since parenting is high on most couples’ list of things they want to do well. What might be suffering from the perceived “time famine,” as Daly calls it, is the relation

of us have time every day to just sit and think

of us spend 16 to 30 hours a week—between two and four hours a day—watching TV. Another 49% put in one to two hours a day.

ship between mom and dad. “The increase in time spent with kids is coming at the expense of personal leisure and couple time. Relationships atrophy.”

So how fulfilled are we with the state of affairs within the four walls of home? In 2004, Bibby did a study for the Vanier Institute called the Future Families Project. He asked 2,500 people across the country from ages 19 to 55 to answer a number of questions about marriage and relationships. People were all for them. In spite of the high divorce rate (more than 38 percent of all marriages end in divorce, accordjng t0 Statistics Canada), couples were very positive V1 about their marriages-while they were together. Included in the top five things they liked were a sense of security, their partner’s good traits, such as commitment, # trust and reliability, the ^ sense of family and the valuable addition of children. But, as Mirabelli says, relationships take a lot of time, and it’s time we don’t always have to give. When asked how often they had sex, a total of 40 per cent of respondents answered monthly, less than monthly, hardly ever, or never. Only about 20 per cent said they had it several times a week. Mirabelli can understand why. By the time people do get home, he says, they often just want to be left alone. “What is it we share?” he asks. “Leftovers. Leftover time. Leftover energy and leftover commitment.”

And then there is the outside world. “Putting bread on the table, saving for tomorrow and raising their children,” Mirabelli says, “is more of a negotiation with the larger economy and the larger society, which is inescapable. Family is not an institution by itself.” We seem to realize this, and most of us to try to engage with broader society. More than 42 per cent of us read a newspaper every day. More than 22 per cent read at least a few pages of a book daily. Nearly 25 per cent read at least one magazine a week. And much of the rest of the time at home, we are on the Internet. In 1999, Bibby found 29 per cent used the Net at home; in 2003, that had jumped to 55 per cent (much more than the 36 per cent who used it only at work). Still, these solitary activities have given us a narrower perspective in terms of the range of people we know and care about, Bibby says. “Primary” people—our immediate families—are our main focus.

Canadians used to have loyalties to the larger world. In 1975, 22 per cent of us belonged to hobby-related groups and 22 per cent to service groups. That had dropped to 15 per cent and 12 per cent respectively by 2005. Quite simply, Canadians told Bibby, when they were not at work, they were at home—not on the baseball diamond or the church social committee, not going to meetings of the classic Corvette car club or even to pro-sports games. Says Bibby, “I have season tickets to the Eskimos but I am sharing them with another guy because I wouldn’t have the time to even think about going to

PARENTS, THEN AND NOW “In the past, most Canadian parents did a good job of raising their kids’ 89% say yes “Today most Canadian parents do a good job”: 60% say yes

WHAT DO WE VALUE? Freedom 90% Family life 83% Being loved 82% Being Canadian 62% A rewarding career 51% Community involvement 15%

all the games—and there are only 10 of them.”

So, membership in groups is declining, and charities and clubs are feeling the pinch. In Guelph, Ont., Dave Marshall, the past president of one of the city’s four local Rotary Clubs, says member ship in his group is healthy for the moment; it has been steady at about 185 people for

thority. And teaching them to be polite or take responsibility for their own actions trumped any utopian idea of teaching them to leave the world a better place. Perhaps because we are so busy, perhaps because we care more about ourselves and our families and homes than anything beyond our doorsteps, Bibby says, we have simply narrowed our focus.

Which leads us to the one thing that may be missing in an overworked, primary-relationship oriented country: any form of

of us think working hard won’t neccessarily get you to the top

the past 10 years. But, he says, “for every four or five new members we get who are in their 50s or older, we only get one in their 40s.” His club, which recently raised $500,000 for area hospitals, would like to recruit younger members, but it has an attendance requirement of 60 per cent of its weekly meetings. Simply showing up “is more and more difficult for people in their 30s and 40s who have school-aged children and growing careers,” Marshall says.

Canadians don’t feel any particular antagonism toward being joiners. According to Bibby, we’re just being “really selective about

where we are going to spend our time.” There is a diminished value people place on being involved in an activity versus belonging to a group. It’s almost a matter of cost-benefit analysis,

Bibby says. Getting involved is not worth people’s time.

We are passing this individual ism on to our kids. When asked how important it was for parents to instill various interpersonal goals in their children, most Canadians told Bibby that teaching their kids to respect their own individuality was more important than teaching them to respect au-

old-fashioned social safety net made up of neighbours and choir members, the ladies’ auxiliary, the Rotary Club—groups our parents’ parents could count on for friendship and support in good times and bad. Says Mirabelli, inadvertently paraphrasing The Simpsons, “We have become a nation of human doings, not human beings.”

What we need is to find a balance between what is good for the individual and what is good for the group. Mirabelli predicts that social life and personal life could become more difficult—and less enjoyable—if we don’t find ways of connecting people and building communities in environments of all kinds. In other words, we should jettison the model we could call “Alone in the Crowd”—10 people all waiting for a plane at the airport, all talking to “their” people on cellphones and treating each other as if they are invisible.

In the meantime, we can take comfort in a happier contradiction. Yes, half of us seem to think working hard won’t necessarily get you to the top, and more than 63 per cent told Bibby that the lot of the average Joe is getting worse, not better. Still, contrarians to the end, 89 per cent said we were fulfilled with our lives as a whole, thank you very much. Now get out of our faces, we have things to do. M