Time use and happiness: US evidence across three decades

24 Pages Posted: 28 Sep 2021 Last revised: 7 Feb 2024

See all articles by Jeehoon Han

Jeehoon Han

Baylor University - Department of Economics

Caspar Kaiser

University of Warwick, Warwick Business School

Date Written: November 27, 2023


We use diary data from representative samples from the United States to examine determinants and historical trends in time-weighted happiness. To do so, we combine fine-grained information on self-reported happiness at the activity level with data on individuals’ time use. We conceptually distinguish time-weighted happiness from evaluative measures of wellbeing and provide evidence of the validity and distinctiveness of this measure. Although time-weighted happiness is largely uncorrelated with economic variables like unemployment and income, it is predictive of several health outcomes, and shares many other determinants with evaluative wellbeing. We illustrate the potential use of time-weighted happiness by assessing historical trends in the gender wellbeing gap. For the largest part of the period between 1985 and 2021, women’s time-weighted happiness improved significantly relative to men’s. This is in stark contrast to prominent findings from previous work. However, our recent data from 2021 indicates that about half of women’s gains since the 1980s were lost during the Covid-19 pandemic. Hence, as previously shown for several other outcomes, women appear to have been disproportionally affected by the pandemic. Our results are replicable in UK data, and robust to alternative assumptions about respondents’ scale use.

Keywords: time use; happiness; life satisfaction; subjective wellbeing; gender gap; Covid-19

JEL Classification: I31, J16, J28

Suggested Citation

Han, Jeehoon and Kaiser, Caspar, Time use and happiness: US evidence across three decades (November 27, 2023). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3931340 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3931340

Jeehoon Han (Contact Author)

Baylor University - Department of Economics

P.O. Box 98003
Waco, TX 76798-8003
United States

Caspar Kaiser

University of Warwick, Warwick Business School ( email )

United Kingdom

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