Women don’t enjoy as much free time as men, and it’s been particularly bad during the pandemic. According to the American Time Use Survey, women have almost an hour less free time than men every day.
And unfortunately, the numbers add up. Women have often done three times as much childcare as men during the pandemic.
The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development has tracked the steady decline in leisure time since the 1970s. North Americans today spend 1.5 to 1.8 times more on paid work than on leisure activities, and this loss of leisure time is attributed in part to longer hours and unpaid overtime.
For my PhD in Communications and Culture, I interviewed hundreds of board gamers and game industry professionals who regularly fill their free time with games – they all said they would play more board games if they had the energy or the time.
Need more time to board game
When I asked my study participants what keeps them from playing more, nearly a quarter cited lack of time in general, childcare, and household and work responsibilities—but there were other reasons, too, such as racism, sexism, bullying, gatekeeping, and interpersonal social issues dramas
The growing leisure divide is having a huge impact on women’s ability to engage in the board game hobby, according to my research participants — 60.4 percent of my respondents identified as women.
Women reported that at the end of a long day, they often don’t have the time or energy to engage in particularly complex or lengthy board games.
They were asked for their relative agreement or disagreement with the statement, “I would play more board games if I had the time,” and three quarters of the participants either agreed or strongly agreed.
Women are time bound
I’ve interviewed people who have spoken out about the issues surrounding access to leisure, with competing work and household responsibilities getting in the way of play and play.
Briar (pseudonym) is a parent and admits that running her own business in addition to a full-time job leads to fatigue that affects her ability to play. Briar shared, “We play at least one game every week and I try to play with my kids as much as possible, but we’re usually tired.” She added that the competing demands of online learning are increasing during the pandemic affected their time and propensity to gamble.
Another parent, Micha (pseudonym), said access to free time was a big factor in their busy lives. When she attends gaming conventions she can play 12 hours a day only being held back by “exhaustion”, but when she’s at home it’s a different story:
“True free time is a massive barrier. Finding free time to play games with adults is very, very difficult for me. You’re in a hurry, or you’re stopping to juggle the kids in the background, or you’re fighting the kids to go to bed early…”
For Ciel (pseudonym), a full-time job and a relationship means she doesn’t have the mental energy to play board games:
“I think it’s not just about time, it’s about intelligence because it’s an active hobby. It requires more commitment from you than watching TV. I could stick on those Great British Bake-Off and observe this. This requires no cooperation from me. As gaming is active rather than passive, it is a matter of time and energy.”
Briar adds that the oft-repeated saying “women don’t like games and especially hard games” is often due to ignorance. She says, “So-called ‘male games’ are like these hard games and ‘female games’ are like these easy games, but it’s not because we can’t handle the hard games. That’s because that’s just not our goal because we don’t have the time and energy.”
While women statistically have less free time, they are more likely to enjoy their limited time for fun and relaxation.
Health researchers Shota Noda, Kentaro Shirotsuki, and Mutsuhiro Nakao examined several board game studies and found a common thread of benefits: playing board games can improve interpersonal connections, increase player motivation, and encourage learning. Women’s persistent inability to rest, relax, and engage in play activities such as board games has far-reaching implications for both women’s health and lifelong learning.
Could you help women in your life find more free time by sharing the load at work or at home and maybe letting them enjoy a game or two? food for thought.