New poll shows leisure time shrinking

If you think your job and household duties occupy a larger chunk of your life than they used to, you're probably right. Americans have far less free time today than 15 years ago, according to a just-released Louis Harris poll on leisure and the arts.

As a result, the time Americans give to concerts, theatergoing, and dance programs, to watching TV, going to movies, viewing videos, and to visiting museums is changing - rising in some instances and falling in others (see chart).

The time devoted to jobs and keeping the household running soared from 40.6 hours in 1973 to a peak of 47.3 in 1984 and then shrank slightly to 46.8 hours by 1987, according to data the Harris organization gathered by phone from 1,500 adults. Concurrently, leisure time shrank from 26.2 hours a week in '73 to 16.6 hours in '87. In case your math's a little rusty, that's a 37 percent slippage in hours for leisure pursuits and relaxation.

The drop ``is reflected in a recent loss for nearly every leisure activity, including the arts, where attendance is reported down for the first time in 15 years,'' according to a summary of the Harris survey presented to the press Tuesday. Since the 1984 survey, ``attendance has declined by 12 percent.'' But the drop isn't across the board.

Since a similar Harris survey released in 1984 (Harris has been making these surveys periodically since 1973), museumgoing has climbed 24 percent; moviegoing, 9 percent; and classical record-buying, 2 percent.

Attendance at live performances, however, is down drastically - opera and musical theater by 38 percent, pop and classical concerts by 26 percent, theater by 25 percent, and dance by 14 percent. Among the reasons cited: high ticket prices, lack of time, not enough performances nearby.

Public participation in the arts declined slightly in most areas except photography, ballet, and modern dance (up about 3 percent, respectively, since 1984). But individual financial contributions to the arts rose 27 percent, from a median of $48.50 a year in '84 to $61.60 last year.

A vast majority of those surveyed - 91 percent - indicated they consider it important for schoolchildren to be exposed to the arts, and 55 percent gave the schools a failing grade in this area.

Sixty-seven percent rated arts education just as vital as language, math, and history, and 72 percent said they're willing to pay higher taxes to give the arts a firm place in the curriculum.

With VCRs now in 55 percent of American households (as opposed to 17 percent four years ago), 44 percent of the Harris survey group said that they ``find themselves increasingly watching a videocassette instead of a regularly scheduled TV program.'' Harris predicts that the VCR ``may stand out as the arts entertainment venue of the future.''

Asked if they would buy or rent videos of hit musical theater productions, 77 percent said yes. Sixty-three percent said they would like to watch new hit dramas from Broadway or London on video. Forty-five percent said they would watch symphony concerts on video.

Copies ($9) of the 122-page report, ``Americans and the Arts V,'' or summaries ($2) can be obtained from the American Council for the Arts, Publications Dept., 1285 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10019. Tel.: (212) 245-4510. The survey was sponsored by Philip Morris Companies Inc.

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