Insights on Canadian Society
A day in the life: How do older Canadians spend their time?

by Paula Arriagada

Release date: March 21, 2018

Skip to text

Text begins

Start of text box

Overview of the study

This study uses the 2015 General Social Survey on Time Use to examine the time spent by Canadian seniors aged 65 and over on various activities. The paper focuses on three types of activities: unpaid household work, active pursuits and passive leisure activities. It examines the factors associated with time spent on these activities, and also provides comparisons with the 1986 General Social Survey on Time Use.

  • In 2015, 91% of senior women (aged 65 and over) engaged in unpaid household work on a typical day, compared with 83% of senior men. When they engaged in unpaid household work, senior women also spent more time on such activities (3.5 hours a day) than senior men did (2.9 hours).
  • About three-quarters of men and women aged 65 and over engaged in active pursuits such as exercising, socializing and using technology, spending approximately 3.5 hours doing so on a typical day. A further 9 in 10 seniors also engaged in passive leisure activities such as watching television and reading.
  • Factors that affect the time use of seniors include age, sex, employment status, educational attainment and living arrangements. Older seniors, for example, spend more time on passive leisure activities (e.g., watching television and reading) and sleep more than younger seniors.
  • Health status also affects seniors’ participation in some activities. Seniors who reported that their health was poor or fair were less likely to participate in socializing and reading, as well as civic, religious and organizational activities than those who said that their health status was excellent or very good.
  • Between 1986 and 2015, the participation rate of senior women in active pursuits declined, from 77% to 69%. In addition, both senior men and women decreased their average time spent on active pursuits over the period, by 35 minutes and 40 minutes a day, respectively.

End of text box

Introduction

The population in Canada, as in many industrialized countries, is aging. As a result of longer life spans and lower fertility, the share of the population aged 65 and over has been slowly increasing since the early 20th century.Note 

The aging of the Canadian population, and the retirement of baby boomers, has attracted quite a bit of attention by government and researchers in past decades.Note  Existing research has focused on the economic and financial pressures brought about by the aging population.Note  This includes financial pressure on the health care system and how to care for seniors, as well as the adequacy of retirement savings and how to manage retirement pensions as the number of retirees increases.

At the same time, a growing body of research examines how older Canadians spend their time, particularly to determine their labour force participation. The findings are important because in Canada, as in other industrialized countries, people are retiring later and living longer.Note  For example, the 2016 Census showed that more people are working past the age of 65: nearly 1 in 5 Canadians aged 65 and over reported working at some point during the previous year, which was almost double the proportion in 1995.

Understanding how older individuals spend their time is also essential as many seniors continue to contribute to society in other ways (such as volunteering and caregiving)—their contributions do not necessarily end because they are no longer formally employed.Note  Research has found that seniors who volunteer give more hours than those in any other age group.Note  They are also more likely to engage in charitable giving and, although they are the least common group of caregivers, they are the most likely to spend the greatest number of hours providing care.Note 

Once seniors retire, what are they doing with their extra free time? Are they using their time to volunteer, exercise or travel? Could it be that are they spending their post-retirement years in a more inactive way?Note  Existing research using data from time use surveys in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands has shown that, as people age, there is a definite shift in time allocation from paid work to leisure activities.Note  It is also important to note that, according to this research, part of that increase can be attributed to more passive leisure activities and not necessarily active pursuits.Note  In addition, existing health research has found that seniors spend the most time on sedentary activities.Note 

Moreover, existing research has shown the importance of being socially engaged throughout the aging process.Note  Older age is a transitional period when people experience changes not only in physical health, but also in social roles that can influence how seniors organize their time and social activities. Some studies suggest that social engagement in meaningful activities and maintaining close relationships may be particularly important for older adults.Note  Maintaining connections to family and friends, however, may be more difficult for seniors: research has also shown that social networks become smaller with age.Note 

This article uses data from the General Social Survey (GSS) on Time Use to examine how seniors spend their days on selected activities. The first part of this paper includes an analysis of the sociodemographic factors associated with time use for seniors in 2015. The second section of the paper adds to the existing research by examining, in a multivariate model, the factors associated with participation in selected activities. Lastly, the paper also briefly examines the differences in time use among seniors over a 30‑year period by comparing the 2015 GSS with data from the 1986 GSS on Time Use.

Senior population continues to increase

According to the 2016 Census, there were 5.9 million seniors in Canada, which accounted for 16.9% of the total population. In comparison, there were 2.4 million seniors in 1981, or 10% of the population.

The first baby boomers turned 65 in 2011, which has led to the largest increase (+20%) in the number of seniors in Canada in 70 years. In addition, although they represent a relatively small proportion of the overall senior population, centenarians were the fastest-growing population between 2011 and 2016 (+41%). The overall population in Canada, in comparison, grew by 5% during the same period.Note  As a result of the rapid increase in the number of seniors, 2016 marked the first time that the census enumerated more seniors than children aged 14 and under.

The proportion of the population aged 65 and over is also expected to continue to increase over the coming decades and, by 2031, there may be as many as 9.6 million seniors in Canada, which would represent 23% of the total population (Chart 1).Note  An aging population has important implications as more Canadians are receiving an old age pension and are seeking health care and services, while housing and transportations needs are also changing. As a result, understanding the factors associated with time use among this growing population can provide information for policymakers to develop long-term strategies.

Chart 1 Proportion of children aged 14 years and under and proportion of people aged 65 years and over, 1986 to 2031

Data table for Chart 1
Data table for Chart 1
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 1. The information is grouped by Year (appearing as row headers), 14 years and under and 65 years and over, calculated using percent units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Year 14 years and under 65 years and over
percent
1986 21.3 10.7
1991 20.9 11.6
1996 20.5 12.2
2001 19.1 13.0
2006 17.7 13.7
2011 16.8 14.8
2016 16.6 16.9
2021 16.3 18.7
2031 16.0 23.1

Another important factor is that the senior population is increasingly female, given that women have a longer life expectancy than men.Note  According to the 2016 Census, among seniors (aged 65 and over), the number of women exceeded the number of men by more than 20%, while there were two women for every man in the population aged 85 and over.

Senior women and men spend their time in different ways

This section explores many of the factors associated with seniors’ participation in different activities in 2015. Data constraints meant it was necessary to combine activities for the analysis, and therefore this study focuses on larger categories of activities. Nevertheless, the results showcase some of the important characteristics associated with time use allocation among this growing population.

The 2015 GSS data on time use show that senior women and men spend their time in different ways. This suggests that gender differences in paid and domestic work persist among seniors, even though they have generally transitioned out of employment and parental roles.Note  For example, the participation rate for paid work among senior men (i.e., the proportion of persons who reported having done an activity on an average day) was 13% versus 6% for senior women.Note 

There are also differences in unpaid household work. The participation rate for senior women was 91% versus 83% for senior men (Table 1). Further examination of unpaid household work showed differences in the participation rates for certain activities. For example, senior women are two times more likely than senior men (68% versus 33%) to do some indoor cleaning during the day, and they are also more likely to engage in meal preparation than their male counterparts (76% versus 61%). At the same time, women aged 65 and over reported spending, on average, significantly more time on these activities. For instance, senior women spent an average of 47 more minutes per day on indoor cleaning and 13 more minutes on meal preparation.

Table 1
Participation rate and time spent on selected activities, men and women aged 65 and over, 2015
Table summary
This table displays the results of Participation rate and time spent on selected activities Participation rate, Average time spent (participants), Men (ref.) and Women, calculated using percent, minutes and hours units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Participation rate Average time spent (participants)
Men (ref.) Women Men (ref.) Women Men (ref.) Women
percent minutes hours
Paid work 13 6Note * 398 343 6.6 5.7
Unpaid household work 83 91Note * 177 209Note * 2.9 3.5Note *
Meal preparation 61 76Note * 78 91Note * 1.3 1.5Note *
Indoor cleaning 33 68Note * 75 122Note * 1.2 2.0Note *
Outdoor cleaning/maintenance 30 10Note * 166 99Note * 2.8 1.7Note *
Other unpaid work 28 34Note * 86 80 1.4 1.3
Shopping for goods and services 36 39 82 87 1.4 1.4
Active pursuits 75 77 213 209 3.6 3.5
Engaging in civic, religious and organizational activities 8 10 119 131 2.0 2.2
Socializing and communicating 37 46Note * 135 135 2.2 2.2
Engaging in cultural activities 3Note E: Use with caution 4 138 156 2.3 2.6
Engaging in leisure and physical activities 44 39Note * 132 133 2.2 2.2
Using technology 30 27 129 110 2.1 1.8
Passive leisure activities 92 89 291 276 4.9 4.6
Watching television or videos 87 82Note * 255 235Note * 4.2 3.9Note *
Listening to music and radio 6 3Note * 104 109 1.7 1.8
Reading 35 41Note * 119 119 2.0 2.0
Sleeping 100 100 542 544 9.0 9.1

The only exception is for outdoor cleaning/maintenance activities: senior men are more likely to participate in these activities than senior women (30% versus 10%). When senior men do outdoor work, they spend more than one extra hour (an additional 67 minutes) on it than senior women.

In addition to taking unpaid household work into account, it is also important to examine other types of activities such as leisure and recreational pursuits and television watching. Various types of leisure activities have different implications for well-being and aging. For example, some activities can help maintain physical and social capabilities and promote health, while others are less beneficial as they are more sedentary and can be more socially isolating.Note 

For the purposes of this paper, active pursuits refer to activities that require some level of engagement. These include activities such as socializing and communicating; volunteering; walking; exercising; participating in organized sports; attending cultural events; pursuing hobbies; writing letters, books and poems; and using technology such as the Internet. Passive leisure activities, on the other hand, refer to unstructured or passive forms of activity. These include watching television, listening to music and readingNote  (see the Data sources, methods and definitions section for a detailed list of variables that make up the active pursuits and passive leisure activities categories).

The results show that senior women and men are as likely to be involved in active and passive pursuits, however, they engage in different types of activities. For active pursuits, senior men were more likely to engage in leisure and physical activities (44% versus 39%) while senior women were more likely to participate in socializing and communicating (46% versus 37%). For passive leisure activities, senior women were more likely to read (41% versus 35%) while senior men were more likely to watch television (87% versus 82%).

Although senior men and senior women may participate in different activities, the amount of time they spend on these activities is not significantly different. The only exception is watching television as senior women spend less time, on average, on this activity (3.9 hours versus 4.2 hours per day).

Seniors’ participation in selected activities varies by age

This section examines the amount of time spent on selected activities by age group. Current seniors (aged 65 and over) are compared with future seniors (aged 55 to 64) to present how activities change as individuals age and move into their later years. In addition, current seniors are split into two age groups: those aged 65 to 74 and those aged 75 and over.

The data show that the participation rate for unpaid household activities does not vary across age groups (Table 2). Specifically, 85% of future seniors (aged 55 to 64) engaged in unpaid household work over the course of a given day, compared with 88% for those aged 65 to 74 and 87% for those aged 75 and over.

Table 2
Participation rate and time spent on selected activities, by age group, 2015
Table summary
This table displays the results of Participation rate and time spent on selected activities. The information is grouped by Activities (appearing as row headers), Participation rate, Average time spent (participants), 55 to 64, 65 to 74 (ref.) and 75 and over, calculated using percent and hours units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Activities Participation rate Average time spent (participants)
55 to 64 65 to 74 (ref.) 75 and over 55 to 64 65 to 74 (ref.) 75 and over
percent hours
Doing unpaid household work 85 88 87 3.1Note * 3.3 3.2
Engaging in civic, religious and organizational activities 6 8 10Note * 2.1 2.3 1.8
Socializing and communicating 42 41 43 2.3 2.3 2.2
Engaging in leisure and physical activities 33Note * 41 41 2.3 2.2 2.3
Using technology 30 33 22Note * 1.7 2.0 2.0
Watching television and videos 76Note * 83 86 3.3Note * 3.9 4.3Note *
Reading 24Note * 36 42Note * 1.5Note * 1.8 2.2Note *
Sleeping 100 100 100 8.5Note * 8.9 9.3Note *

In addition, the data show that the average amount of time spent on unpaid household activities is lower for those aged 55 to 64 (3.1 hours) than for those aged 65 to 74 (3.3 hours). However, the time spent remains fairly unchanged for the oldest age group (3.2 hours). It is possible that although seniors have more time for household work, the demand for this type of work declines due to smaller household sizes. Furthermore, it is also possible that older adults may also experience disabilities or be in poorer health, which may make certain activities, including household work, more challenging.Note 

For other activities, the participation rates for civic, religious and organizational activities vary slightly across the different age groups. The participation rate in such activities was 10% for seniors aged 75 and over compared with 8% for those aged 65 to 74. The participation rate for future seniors was 6%, which is not significantly different from the reference category. Although there are some differences in the participation rates, the data also show that the time spent on these activities remains fairly consistent across all age groups.

There are, however, differences in the participation rates for leisure and physical activities by age. Future seniors had a lower participation rate for such activities compared with those aged 65 to 74 (33% versus 41%) while, among the oldest seniors, the participation rate remained at 41%. However, the amount of time spent on these activities did not vary by age. Seniors in all three age groups who engaged in these activities spent just over two hours doing so. In addition, and consistent with existing research, seniors aged 75 and over were significantly less likely to use technology than those aged 65 to 74 (22% versus 33%).Note  However, among those who used technology, the time they spent did not vary significantly across the different age groups.

The data also show that the participation rates and time spent on more passive activities significantly varies across age groups. Not only do the participation rates for watching television and reading increase with age, but the data also show an increase by age in time spent on these activities. For example, the average time spent watching television increased by one hour for persons between the ages of 55 and 64 as well as for those 75 and over. A similar relationship can be found between reading and aging. This suggests that, as seniors age and move away from paid work, some of that time is being replaced by more passive activities.

Finally, the amount of time seniors spend sleeping also increases with age. This is consistent with existing research that shows time spent sleeping increases with age for both men and women, although short sleep duration and poor sleep quality have also been found to be common among seniors.Note  The data show that persons aged 55 to 64 spend an average of 8.5 hours sleeping. Seniors aged 65 to 74 spend 8.9 hours sleeping, compared with 9.3 hours for those aged 75 and over.

Employment plays an important role in seniors’ participation in selected activities

In order to better understand how seniors spend their time, the role of employment on how much time seniors spend on certain activities should be considered. For instance, employment may affect time use more than age because of its influence and impact on economic resources, time availability, and possible opportunities for social engagement and other activities.Note  In general, older individuals who have transitioned out of employmentNote  are more likely to participate and spend a greater number of hours engaged in other activities. For example, participation in unpaid household work is lower for seniors who continue to work, at 78%, versus 89% for those who are not employed (Table 3).

Table 3
Participation rate and time spent on selected activities, by employment status, 2015
Table summary
This table displays the results of Participation rate and time spent on selected activities. The information is grouped by Activities (appearing as row headers), Participation rate, Average time spent (participants), Employed (ref.) and Not employed, calculated using percent and hours units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Activities Participation rate Average time spent (participants)
Employed (ref.) Not employed Employed (ref.) Not employed
percent hours
Doing unpaid household work 78 89Note * 2.5 3.3Note *
Engaging in civic, religious and organizational activities 9 9 1.9 2.1
Socializing and communicating 36 43 2.4 2.2
Engaging in leisure and physical activities 30 42Note * 1.7 2.2Note *
Using technology 33 28 1.8 2.0
Watching television and videos 80 85 3.0 4.2Note *
Reading 31 39Note * 1.4 2.0Note *

A comparison of seniors’ engagement in civic, religious and organizational activities (which includes volunteer work) shows that their rate of participation did not vary depending on whether or not they were employed (9% for each). In addition, the average time spent on these activities between the employed and those who are not employed was not significant. A similar trend was found for participation and time spent socializing and communicating.

However, employment status matters when it comes to leisure and physical activities. Those who are not employed have a significantly higher participation rate than those who are employed (42% versus 30%).Note  Seniors who are not employed are not only more likely to engage in these activities but, when they participate in leisure and physical activities, they are also more likely to spend additional time (30 minutes) on them than seniors who are still employed.

The results for passive activities also show that the participation rate for reading is higher for those who are not employed than for the employed (39% versus 31%), while the proportions are not significantly different for watching television (85% versus 80%). For time spent by seniors who engaged in these passive activities, the data show that those who are not employed spend an additional 1.2 hours (74 minutes) watching television. In addition, time spent reading is significantly higher for seniors who are not employed than for those who are still employed (an additional 39 minutes).

Healthier seniors are more likely to participate in active pursuits

Existing research has found that, compared with those who report fair or poor health, healthy older individuals spend more time on certain activities such as unpaid work and active leisure pursuits.Note 

The participation rate of seniors in unpaid household work did not vary significantly by health status. Specifically, 89% of seniors who reported their health as excellent or very good engaged in unpaid household work on a given day, while the proportion decreased to 84% for seniors who reported their health as fair or poor (Table 4). Among seniors who did report time spent on unpaid household work, however, those who reported their health as fair or poor spent less time in this activity than healthy seniors. The average time spent on unpaid work increased from 2.9 hours for those who reported fair or poor health to 3.4 hours for those in excellent or very good health. This is consistent with research that found some activities such as household work may be more difficult for older adults in poorer health.Note 

Table 4
Participation rate and time spent on selected activities, by self-rated health, 2015
Table summary
This table displays the results of Participation rate and time spent on selected activities. The information is grouped by Activities (appearing as row headers), Participation rate, Average time spent (participants), Excellent or very good (ref.), Good and Fair or poor, calculated using percent and hours units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Activities Participation rate Average time spent (participants)
Excellent or very good (ref.) Good Fair or poor Excellent or very good (ref.) Good Fair or poor
percent hours
Doing unpaid household work 89 87 84 3.4 3.2 2.9Note *
Engaging in civic, religious and organizational activities 10 9 5Note * 2.3 1.9 2.1
Socializing and communicating 45 41 37Note * 2.3 2.2 2.4
Engaging in leisure and physical activities 45 39 36Note * 2.2 2.1 2.3
Using technology 32 27Note * 25Note * 1.9 2.0 2.3
Watching television and videos 82 88Note * 85 3.7 4.2Note * 4.9Note *
Reading 42 37Note * 32Note * 2.0 2.0 2.0
Sleeping 100 100 100 8.9 9.1 9.5Note *

In general, the participation rate for active pursuits varies significantly by health status. For example, the participation rate for civic, religious and organizational activities was significantly lower for seniors who reported their health as fair or poor compared with those in excellent or very good health (5% versus 10%). Similar results were found for socializing and communicating as well as for leisure and physical activities. Despite the gap in the participation rates for these activities, the average time spent by participants on any of these active pursuits did not vary significantly by health status. At the same time, the participation rate for using technology was significantly lower for seniors who reported their health in more negative terms than for those in excellent or very good health.

Participation in passive leisure activities is also affected by health status. For instance, among those who watched television, the average time spent increased by more than one hour between those who reported their health as excellent or very good and those in poorer health (3.7 hours versus 4.9 hours). According to the data, those in fair or poor health and those in good health also reported a lower participation rate for reading than seniors in excellent or very good health. However, the time spent reading on a given day did not vary by health status among seniors.Note 

In addition, there is a relationship between sleeping and self-reported health among seniors who reported their health as fair or poor. On average, they spent more time sleeping than their healthier counterparts (9.5 hours versus 8.9 hours).Note 

Multivariate results confirm the findings at the bivariate level

The next section of the paper uses Tobit regression models to simultaneously assess the relationship between a number of sociodemographic factors and the time spent on activities by seniors. Tobit regression analysis is well suited to time use data, which have a large number of non‑participants in certain activities. The technique assesses all participants and non‑participants by simultaneously considering both the likelihood of daily participation and the average duration of time spent.Note  For this multivariate analysis, three outcomes are examined: unpaid household work, active pursuits and passive leisure activities.Note 

The regression estimates confirm some of the findings at the bivariate level. For example, the results suggest that the relationship between unpaid household work and sex seen at the bivariate level remains in the multivariate analysis (Table 5). For instance, senior women did almost one more hour (53 minutes) of household work than men, after controlling for other sociodemographic factors. The model also shows that senior women spent almost 50 fewer minutes than men on passive leisure.

Table 5
Results from estimating a Tobit model of predicting minutes spent per day on selected activities, 2015
Table summary
This table displays the results of Results from estimating a Tobit model of predicting minutes spent per day on selected activities Unpaid household work, Active pursuits and Passive leisure activities, calculated using minutes units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Unpaid household work Active pursuits Passive leisure activities
minutes
Sex
Women 53Note * 8 -48Note *
Men ref. ref. ref.
Age
65 to 74 ref. ref. ref.
75 and over -16Note * -8 31Note *
Geography
Atlantic provinces -10 14 -10
Quebec -20Note * 3 15
Ontario ref. ref. ref.
Western provinces -3 13 -22Note *
Highest level of education
High school diploma or less ref. ref. ref.
Postsecondary diploma or certificate 2 31Note * -33Note *
University degree -21Note * 59Note * -60Note *
Living arrangements
Living alone -35Note * 10Note * 37Note *
Living with spouse ref. ref. ref.
Other -2 -30 25
Self-rated health
Fair or poor -36Note * -37Note * 41Note *
Good -16Note * -30Note * 24Note *
Excellent or very good ref. ref. ref.
Employment status
Employed last week ref. ref. ref.
Not employed last week 76Note * 57Note * 83Note *

After controlling for other factors, the results also show that older seniors (aged 75 and over) spend an average of 16 minutes less on unpaid household work than younger seniors. Although the results are not significant for active pursuits, older seniors spend half an hour more (31 minutes) on passive leisure activities, which is consistent with the bivariate results.

Two other significant variables in the model are self-rated health and employment status. Hence, seniors who described their health as fair or poor spent 36 minutes less than those in excellent or very good health on unpaid household work and 37 minutes less on active pursuits. However, they also spent more time (41 minutes) on passive leisure activities. The same pattern is evident for seniors who reported their health as good, compared with those who reported excellent or very good health.

The regression results also show the effect of employment on time use. After controlling for other factors, seniors who were not employed spent 76 minutes more on unpaid household work, 57 minutes more on active pursuits and, an additional 83 minutes on passive leisure activities. Such results do not necessarily imply that seniors are better off when they do not work, as many seniors continue to work by choice, and not necessarily out of necessity. More research would be needed to study the implications of the rising labour market participation of seniors on their wellbeing.

Furthermore, the Tobit results show an association between education and the amount of time seniors spend on various activities. More particularly, those with a university degree spend less time on unpaid household work and passive leisure activities (21 minutes and 60 minutes, respectively), while they spend 59 minutes more on active pursuits. This is consistent with existing research, which has shown that individuals with higher levels of educational attainment are more likely to devote time to activities that are beneficial to their physical and mental health and to consumption-related leisure activities.Note 

Finally, living arrangements also matter, especially for seniors who live alone. After controlling for other factors, seniors who live alone spend less time on unpaid household work but spend more time on passive activities.

Today’s seniors participate less in active pursuits than seniors in 1986

It is possible to use data from the 1986 General Social Survey on Time Use to examine changes in time spent on selected activities, specifically unpaid household work, active pursuits and passive leisure.Note 

In 2015, the participation rate for seniors aged 65 and over in unpaid household work was 87%, significantly higher than the 75% participation rate for 1986 (Table 6). During this 30‑year period, the participation for senior men increased significantly from 58% to 83%, while senior women’s participation rate remained fairly unchanged (88% versus 91%). Despite the fact that senior men in 2015 were more likely to participate in household chores and the average time they spend has increased, senior women still accounted for a larger share of unpaid household work in 2015 (209 minutes, compared with 177 minutes for men).

Table 6
Participation rate and time spent on selected activities for individuals aged 65 and over, 1986 and 2015
Table summary
This table displays the results of Participation rate and time spent on selected activities for individuals aged 65 and over Total, Men (ref.), Women, 1986 and 2015, calculated using percentage and minutes units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Total Men (ref.) Women
1986 2015 1986 2015 1986 2015
percentage
Participation rate
Unpaid household work 75 87Table 6 Note  58 83Table 6 Note  88Note * 91Note *
Active pursuitsTable 6 Note 1 74 69 69 68 77 69Table 6 Note 
Passive leisure activities 88 90 89 92 87 89
minutes
Average time (participants)
Unpaid household work 162 195Table 6 Note  130 177Table 6 Note  179Note * 209Note *Table 6 Note 
Active pursuitsTable 6 Note 1 223 185Table 6 Note  214 179Table 6 Note  230 190Table 6 Note 
Passive leisure activities 291 283 318 291Table 6 Note  270Note * 276

In the 30 years between 1986 and 2015, the participation for senior women in active pursuits (excluding using technology) decreased significantly, from 77% to 69%. In addition, the results showed a significant decrease in the average time spent on these activities. Between 1986 and 2015, both senior men and women decreased their average time spent on active pursuits (by 35 minutes and 40 minutes, respectively).Note 

The findings on participation in passive leisure activities show that the seniors’ participation rates (for both men and women) have remained fairly unchanged in the last three decades. In addition, the average amount of time they spent on these passive activities did not change significantly between 1986 and 2015, with the exception of senior men, whose time spent decreased by nearly half an hour (27 minutes).

Conclusion

In Canada, the population is aging and the proportion aged 65 and over is expected to increase over the next few decades. As a result, research on this population is important because an aging population has implications on health care and support services, among others. Examining the patterns and factors associated with time use can shed light on how seniors are aging in Canada.

This paper shows that several characteristics are associated with time use allocation among seniors. For example, after controlling for other sociodemographic factors, senior women spend more time on unpaid household work and less time on passive leisure activities than senior men.

The findings also highlight the importance of employment, which has a significant impact on the way seniors spend their time. The findings also show that health is a significant factor in the way seniors devote their time to various activities. Seniors who describe their health as fair or poor spend less time on unpaid household work and active pursuits. But they also spend more time on passive leisure activities.

Finally, this study also examines how time use allocation changed for seniors between 1986 and 2015. The results show that seniors appear to have moved towards a more egalitarian division of unpaid household work. Senior men’s participation rate in unpaid household work increased from 59% to 83%. At the same time, seniors now spend less time on active pursuits than they did three decades ago.

The fact that seniors spend less time in active pursuits could have implications on the health and wellbeing on this group of seniors as they age. Future research will be needed to continue monitoring the activities of this growing population in Canada.

Paula Arriagada is a research analyst with the Social and Aboriginal Statistics Division at Statistics Canada.

Start of text box

Data sources, methods and definitions

Data sources

The General Social Survey (GSS) on Time Use is a cross-sectional survey whose target population consists of non-institutionalized persons aged 15 and over living in the 10 provinces. While the GSS is collected every year on different themes, time use is generally measured every five years. This study compares data from Cycle 2 (1986) with data from Cycle 29 (2015).

A 24-hour diary was used to retrospectively collect all the activities a respondent did on a designated day starting at 4:00 a.m. and ending at 4:00 a.m. the next day. All activities lasting at least 10 minutes were recorded. For each activity, additional information was also gathered to provide a better picture of how long the activity lasted, where it happened, and who was present during the activity. For the purposes of this paper, only primary (or main) activities are included in the analyses.

Definitions

Reference day and average: During data collection for the General Social Survey on Time Use, the sample was uniformly distributed across the year in order to get time use diaries for each day of the week and for all months of the year. The average day concept reflects the average participation rate and time allocated to the different activities for all days of the week across the year for a given population.

Participation rates: Participation rates can be described as the proportion of persons who reported having done an activity on an average day.

Activity codes in the General Social Survey on Time Use
Table summary
This table displays the results of Activity codes in the General Social Survey on Time Use. The information is grouped by Category (appearing as row headers), 2015 and 1986 (appearing as column headers).
Category 2015 1986
Paid work
  • paid work
  • looking for work
  • other income-generating activities
  • paid training
  • selling goods and services
  • working for pay
  • working overtime/looking for work
  • travelling during work
  • waiting/delays at work
  • idle time before or after work
  • uncodeable work activities
Unpaid household work 1) Meal preparation
  • preparing meals, lunch and snacks
  • preserving foods (baking, freezing, sealing and packing foods)
1) Meal preparation
2) Household chores and interior maintenance
  • indoor house cleaning, dishwashing and tidying up
  • doing laundry, ironing, folding, sewing and shining shoes
2) Household chores and interior maintenance
  • meal cleanup (doing dishes/clearing table)
  • indoor cleaning (dusting/vacuuming)
  • doing laundry, ironing and folding
  • mending
3) “Household chores and exterior maintenance
  • taking out garbage, recycling, composting and unpacking goods
  • repairing, painting and renovating
  • doing outdoor maintenance (car repair, ground maintenance, snow removal and grass cutting)
3) Other unpaid work related to the household
  • outdoor cleaning (sidewalks/garbage)
  • home repairs, maintenance
4) Other unpaid work related to the household
  • organizing, planning and paying bills
  • unpacking groceries, packing and unpacking luggage for travel and/or boxes for a move
  • planting (picking), maintaining, cleaning garden and caring for houseplants
  • pet care (feeding, walking, grooming, playing)
4) Other unpaid work related to the household
  • gardening, taking care of pets
  • other uncodeable housework
Active pursuits 1) Socializing and communicating
  • socializing and communicating in person
  • socializing and communicating using any type of technology
  • writing letters, cards, books and poems
1) Socializing and communicating
  • visiting and entertaining friends/relatives
  • socializing at bars and clubs
  • other social gatherings
  • talking, conversing and phoning
2) Civic, religious and organizational activities
  • organizational activities
  • voluntary work
  • religious activities
  • civic participation such as voting and jury duty
  • coaching and administering sports
2) Civic, religious and organizational activities
  • professional, union and general
  • political and civic activity
  • child, youth and family organizations
  • religious meetings and organizations
  • religious services, prayer and Bible reading
  • fraternal and social organizations
  • doing volunteer work and helping
  • other uncodeable organizations
3) Culture
  • attending cinema, exhibitions, library, concerts, theatre and entertainment events
  • attending sporting events
  • visiting museums, art galleries, heritage zoos and observatories
3) Culture
  • sports events
  • pop music, fairs and concerts
  • movies and films
  • opera, ballet and drama
  • museums and art galleries
4) Leisure
  • exercising
  • organized recreational sports
  • competitive sports (indoor or outdoor)
  • outdoor sports (non-competitive) such as skiing, skating, swimming and tennis
  • outdoor activities such as fishing and hunting
  • arts and hobbies such as drawing, painting, crafting and playing an instrument
  • leisure activities such as walking, pleasure driving and birdwatching
4) Leisure
  • engaging in sports and physical exercise and coaching
  • hunting, fishing and camping
  • walking and hiking
  • hobbies
  • domestic home crafts
  • music, theatre and dance
  • games, cards and arcades
  • pleasure driving and sightseeing
  • other uncodeable sports and leisure activities
5) Use of technology such as general computer use, video games, Internet, art and music production  
Passive leisure
  • watching television and videos
  • listening to music and radio
  • reading (online or paper version books, periodicals, newspapers and letters)
  • watching television and rented movies
  • listening to radio
  • listening to records and tapes
  • reading books and magazines
  • reading newspapers
Shopping for goods and services
  • shopping and buying goods such as gasoline, groceries, clothing and cars
  • shopping for services such as legal services, financial services and vehicle maintenance
  • researching goods or services
  • every day shopping (food, clothing and gas)
  • shopping for durable household goods
  • personal care services
  • government and financial services
  • adult medical and dental care
  • other professional services (lawyer)
  • repair services (cleaning, auto and appliance)
  • waiting and queuing for purchase
  • other uncodeable services
Sleep
  • sleeping
  • night sleeping and essential sleeping
  • incidental sleeping and napping

End of text box

Start of text box

What is the average amount of time seniors spend on each activity over a 24-hour period?

The 2015 GSS on Time Use data presented in this paper refer to the participation rate and average time spent by participants on selected activities. However, the data can also highlight the average time spent on various activities over a 24‑hour period.

In 2015, men aged 55 to 64 spent an average of 3.8 hours on paid work compared with 0.9 hours for senior men aged 65 and over (Chart 2). The data also highlight how time spent on paid work is reallocated to other activities as seniors age and transition out of employment. For both men and women, the results show that most of the time is reallocated to passive leisure activities as they move past the retirement age. Time spent sleeping also increases for seniors, albeit by a smaller margin.Note 

Chart 2 Average time spent per day on selected activities, by age group and sex, 2015

Data table for Chart 2
Data table for Chart 2
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 2. The information is grouped by Activities (appearing as row headers), Men, Women, 55 to 64 years and 65 years and over, calculated using hours units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Activities Men Women
55 to 64 years 65 years and over 55 to 64 years 65 years and over
hours
Paid work 3.8 0.9 2.4 0.4
Unpaid household work 2.3 2.4 2.9 3.2
Active pursuits 2.3 2.7 2.5 2.7
Passive leisure activities 3.1 4.5 2.7 4.1
Sleeping 8.3 9.0 8.7 9.1
Other 4.2 4.5 4.8 4.5

End of text box

Related information

Related articles

Data sources

Bibliographic references

Date modified: