Time use as a dimension of poverty

Time is a finite resource, which enables and restricts individual activity. Time use describes all the ways in which people divide time in their everyday lives, including paid and unpaid work, such as leisure and personal care (Antonopoulos, 2010: 1). The social and economic resources available to individuals and households are determined by the ways in which time can be allocated to various activities (Vickery, 1977). The number of hours available to earn an income is critical to economic wellbeing, and time spent in paid work in turn determines the time available for other activities. While time is not explicitly defined as a human right, Article 7 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights entitles individuals to protection from excessive working hours and to leisure. Time poverty can be defined as the ‘burden of competing claims on a person’s time that constrains their ability to choose how individual time resources are allocated’ (Ringhofer, 2015:322).

What the research reveals about time use

Time use is highly gendered. While men generally spend more time in paid work, a disproportionate amount of unpaid work undertaken by women may create time poverty, which in turn reduces women’s earning capacity and restricts opportunities for rest and leisure activities essential to wellbeing (Bradshaw et al., 2017). Understanding time not spent on work is also important because ‘(1) rest and leisure are necessary for physical and mental health of human beings; and (2) a part of it (namely, reading, studying, skill training, self-development activities and so on) contributes to improving human capabilities’ (Antonopoulos, 2010: 1). Furthermore, the long-term implications of time burdens and consequent trade-offs between tasks can impact health, food security, child nutrition, and education (Ringhofer, 2015), as well as on relationships and individual wellbeing (Strazdins and Broom, 2004; Jowsey et al., 2016). Multi-tasking and being on call for the care of children and others intensifies time burdens and impacts on time available for personal care and leisure.

The Beijing Platform for Action sought to make visible the full extent of women’s contributions to economic development by ‘conduct[ing] regular time-use studies to measure, in quantitative terms, unremunerated work’ (United Nations, 1995: 206.f). The importance of making visible the unpaid work done by women is further reinforced in SDG Target 5.4, which aims to ‘recognize and value unpaid care and domestic work through the provision of public services, infrastructure and social protection policies and the promotion of shared responsibility within the household and the family as nationally appropriate’.

What the IMMP reveals about time use

Analysing how women and men allocate their time is important in understanding how deprivation is gendered as a result of the unequal division of labour and the invisibility of unpaid care and domestic work. The participatory research that underpins the IMMP identified the connections between multidimensional poverty and time use, including the time burden of gathering essential supplies of water and fuel, and the time spent (particularly by women) on unpaid care and domestic work (e.g. food preparation, cleaning and washing). Depending on the family/household composition and relative wealth, these time burdens create trade-offs, with negative implications for other aspects of life, such as the inability to undertake paid work and/or the loss of time for rest, sleep or leisure.

What the IMMP Time Use dimension measures

The time use dimension of the IMMP consists of one theme: time burden and on-call time.

Theme 1: Time burden and on-call time

The time burden and on-call time dimension consists of a single indicator of the same title, and nine variables, and focuses on time-use deprivation faced by the individual during the past working day. The time burden and on-call time indicator examines time spent on work for pay, profit and production and for unpaid domestic and care work, as well as how much time the individual allocates to those activities, and the extent to which an individual’s time is consistently being called on to undertake different activities simultaneously. Specifically, we consider time spent caring for a child aged under 13 years while also doing their ‘primary activity’. The nine variable considered ask the respondent if they:

  • Spent time on office job, business or on a farm as a labourer
  • Collected or grew produce
  • Spent time on unpaid domestic work
  • Spent time on house maintenance or repair
  • Spent time on voluntary work
  • Spent time on caring
  • Spent time on social, cultural or religious activities
  • Spent time on education
  • And, their proportion of on-call time


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