Unequal leisure opportunities across genders – overwhelmed women

  • Klára Tarkó
  • Zsuzsanna Benkő


Leisure is the means of reproducing our energies we lose due to objective and subjective weariness. While the ‘cure’ for objective fatigue is sleeping and resting, the solution for subjective tiredness is leisure and pleasure. We need both to stay healthy. Opportunities to stay healthy are however not equal in our societies: Place of Residence; Race/Ethnicity; Occupation; Gender; Religion; Education; Socio-economic status; and Social capital/Resources (all together referred to as PROGRESS) are the key determinants. In the present paper we highlight at the gender issue from among the key determinants, which status is in strong connection with almost all the above listed features. Throughout history women’s political power, financial status (feminisation of poverty, wage gaps), education and labour market status (vertical and horizontal segregation) were less favourable than men’s. There are stereotypes like women cannot reconcile work and family. Women, who do all or most of the housework spare a lot of expenses for the family, without financial or moral appreciation. The gender-specific analysis of Hungarian time budget surveys performed since 1993 underline several aspects of unequal opportunities of men and women. Women spend more time on socially constrained workload than men, thanks to their unilateral responsibilities in household tasks and child rearing. As 24 h make a day up, regardless of genders, this excess time should be taken away from an other set of activities, namely from leisure. Mothers with small children, women on a maternity leave, housewives and the actively working women have the smallest amount of leisure time. Women with a vocational education and those living in lower status settlements also possess less time for leisure. Analysis by age revealed, that 30–39 and 40–49-year-old women have the least leisure time. The paper also highlights at the health - mental health consequences women suffer from due to the lack of quality leisure time, and suggests the utilisation of an effective time management aided by lifestyle counsellor professionals.


Leisure Women Health Unequal opportunities Time budget 

1 Introduction

Minority status indicates a condition of being subordinate, dependent, and inferior to the majority. Minorities are disadvantaged social groups, including national minorities, women, disabled people, religious minorities, or sexual minorities. The present paper focuses on the disadvantages women experience (e.g. less power, horizontal and vertical segregation at the labour market, housework, worse mental health) in terms of quality of life (Tarkó 2016), reflected among others in their leisure opportunities. According to The World Factbook issued by the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency, 2018) the sex ratio of Hungary in 2017 was 0.91 males/female. The ratios are similar in almost all European countries, except only for Norway, Kosovo, Cyprus and Turkey, where this ratio is between 1.0 and 1.02. Women ‘outnumber’ men, still do not have enough of the three main capitals conceptualised by Bourdieu (1986): political/social, economic and cultural capital. Consequently, women gain less resources and appreciation, and perform their social responsibilities at the expense of quality leisure (Henderson and Gibson 2013). The present paper aims at revealing the leisure time trends of Hungarian women, with the help of analysing national representative time budget surveys performed since 1963. Detailed analysis of leisure budget as a whole and according to the different activities measured will be performed by age, education, labour market situation and place of residence in case of the latest 3 national surveys of 1986/87, 1999/2000 and 2009/2010. The objective behind the present analysis is to raise awareness of unequal leisure opportunities of women in Hungary and of the need for interventions for the sake of mental health promotion.

2 Unequal opportunities

2.1 Excerpts from family history

Throughout history in most societies women’s economic situation (Gilman 1898; Czibere 2012), education (Tóth 2007; Ferencz and Tarkó 2016), labour market situation (Szabó 2017), and power (Rueschemeyer 2012) that is, their social status (Tarkó 2004) has been lagging behind men’s, due – among others – to their position in the division of labour. Traditional families formed representation and production units, with an economic function and an organised division of labour (Benkő 2000, 2016). Members of the household worked together at the same location, contributing jointly to subsistence. This way, though men owned the place of work, women counted relatively equal to men. Embourgeoisement and modernisation though meant a retrograde step for women. In a considerable amount of families, production and work became activities away from home. The income received from work had a common benefit. From the families’ point of view, income management became dominant; what do they spend for the income at their disposal. To ensure the income became a male privilege, and as a result, family members converted to earners and dependents. Men became heads of the families, as earners they claimed the sole responsibility for financial matters; they represented the family for the outside world and mediated society for the family. The private sphere became a female territory, with the life vocation of being a wife, a mother and a homemaker (Benkő 2000, 2016; Fónagy 2014; Benkő and Tarkó 2017). The schooling for girls and the spread of welfare organisations like healthcare and social care brought changes in female roles. From the 1950s, the dual-earner family model became widespread in Western- and Eastern Europe, so the economic dependence of women on their husbands – theoretically – disappeared. Society’s thinking, though, stuck at the second historical phase of family development and consider home management still a sole female task, while contact keeping with the outside world and family support a male task.

2.2 Socialisation for gender roles

A stereotyped gender socialisation follows us from birth. Kindergarten aged children are already aware of gender-specific role demands and norms, know the gender stereotypes and are able to identify their own gender (Kereszty 2014). Through its declared as well as hidden curriculum, the education system also sends various messages about gender stereotypes. Teachers are often unaware of their gender-different practices in teacher-pupil interactions or in praising and rewarding. Even the school textbooks transmit gender stereotypes (Czachesz et al. 1996; Kereszty 2005). There are ‘boyish’ and ‘girlish’ school subjects; social sciences and arts are assigned to girls, while mathematics, engineering and science to boys, destined this way towards the ‘boyish’ and ‘girlish’ professions in the labour market.

2.3 Education

In general, the education level of women is higher than men’s but there are differences in their choice of school types of the same level (KSH 2018a), that is, Education in Hungary is segregate by genders. 64.6% of those, who study in vocational schools not ending with a Matura, are boys, while the ratio of girls in the same type is only 35.4%. In case of secondary education finishing with a Matura - a final exam that young adults take at the end of their secondary education - the ratio of women is higher both in the general (61.6%) and in the vocational (53.4%) types. These numbers indicate the tendency of continuing studies in higher education, while for boys the primary aim is to acquire a vocation (first). The ratio of women with a college or bachelor degree is almost twice as much as that of boys’ (61.9%), and the ratio is similar in case of university or master degree (women: 48.5%, men: 51.5%). However, at the PHD level men take the lead (61.3%). Women with a higher education diploma are more likely to graduate on the following areas (KSH 2018b): education – 34.9% (cf. men – 12.9%), social sciences, economy, law – 33.5% (cf. men – 22.4%), health and social care – 9.9% (cf. men – 4.9%). Men however tend to be qualified on the following areas (KSH 2018b): technical, industrial and construction training – 31.8% (cf. women – 6.2%), mathematics, engineering and sciences – 7.8% (cf. women – 2.6%), agriculture and veterinary sciences – 7.6% (cf. women – 3.8%), services – 7.4% (cf. women – 3.7%).

2.4 Labour market

The above, so called, horizontal segregation is reflected in the labour market also (Fig. 1). 78.1% of those working in human health and social care, 76.1% of those working in education, 66.4% of those working in other services, 63.9% of those working in financial and insurance activities, 57.2% of those working in accommodation services and catering and 53.2% of those working in commerce and car repair are women. 90.9% of those working in the building industry, 87% of those working in mining and quarrying, 77.3% of those working in water supply, sewage treatment, waste management and dewatering, 75% of those working in transportation and warehousing, 73.7% of those working in agriculture, forestry and fishing, 71.6% of those working in electricity, gas, steam and air conditioning, 64.9% of those working in information and communication and 61.5% of those working in processing industry are men (KSH 2018c).
Fig. 1

Employees by sex and economic sector – Hungary (2011) (Source: based on KSH 2018c)

The prestige of the different economic sectors is different, and these differences are visible in the salaries. Women predominate in the lower prestige and badly paid occupations. Regardless of the above horizontal segregation, wage differences between men and women are present in every economic sector. According to the PwC (2017) report, there is in general a 16% gender pay gap in the OECD countries. According to their estimates, if the current slow tendency of bringing male and female wages closer will be going on, the pay gap in Hungary would disappear only 100 years later.

Beside horizontal labour market segregation, a strong vertical segregation exists, meaning, the higher a position within an economic sector is the more dominated by men it becomes. According to data from the latest population census in 2011 (KSH 2018d), only 0.8% of Hungarian senior- and middle level managers, large and medium-sized entrepreneurs were women. The other visible embodiment of powerlessness is the extent of female political participation. Among the 199 members of the Hungarian parliament there are only 23 female members (11.6%), 8 State Secretaries (5 out of which is working for the Ministry of Human Resources) and only one Minister (without portfolio).

The lack of or weaker utilisation of social capital is a hindering factor concerning women’s career. Women with family duties, raising children, can allocate less time for building empowering social relationships, and prefer hard and persevering work to contact building (Koncz 2007).

Housework is an invisible workload for women (see Henderson and Gibson 2013; van der Lippe et al. 2018; Treas and Tai 2016). By completing the household tasks, women spare a lot of money for their families and get no financial or even symbolic reward (appreciation) for it. If families would have to pay for household tasks for a service provider, that amount would count in terms of national income, increasing the GDP by the one-fourth (Horváth et al. 2017).

3 Time budget

It is worth examining the daily activity structure of men and women, the best method of which is the time budget survey. “A time budget is a log or diary of the sequence and duration of activities engaged in by an individual over a specified period, most typically the 24-hour day. Time-budget research involves the collection of numerous such protocols from members of a population to analyse main trends and subgroup differences in the allocation of time” ( Since 1963, the Hungarian Central Statistical Office conducts national representative time budget surveys in every 10 years. Six surveys have been carried out until today (Andorka et al. 1990; Falussy 2002). Sampling was multi-stage and stratified according to size and geographical location of settlements and the residential area within. The households themselves, where one family member was involved from, were selected in a random systematic manner (KSH 2010, 2011, 2012). The sample sizes selected so were 12,000 in 1963; 27,600 in 1976/77; 40,000 in 1986/87; 11,000 in 1993; 43,200 in 1999/2000 and 13,000 in 2009/2010. Activities were logged throughout a longer period, expressed in minutes and processed in a three-sectioned classifying system (Falussy 1985, 2007): 1. Total workload/Constrained time, 2. Personal needs, and 3. Free time/Leisure. The present paper focuses on the secondary statistical analysis of national representative time budget survey data, highlighting especially at leisure time. The main research questions are: Are there gender-specific patterns in the distribution of constrained, personal and leisure time in Hungary? Are there differences in the gender-specific patterns of leisure time budget according to the place of residence, age, education and labour market situation? We propose to find less leisure time at women’s disposal. We also expect similar trends in, but stronger effects of place of residence, age, education and labour market situation on selected leisure activities of women compared to that of men.

3.1 Leisure time budget

Figure 2. shows the per capita general daily time use (in minutes) referring to the complete sample, regardless of the number of people actually performing the given activity in a certain day. Time spent on all the observed activities adds up to 1440 min, that is 24 h.
Fig. 2

Summary data of Hungarian time budget surveys (1963–2010) (Source: based on Falussy and Vukovich 1996. and KSH 2012). (n1963 = 12,000; n1976/77 = 27,600; n1986/87 = 40,000; n1993 = 11,000; n1999/2000 = 43,200; n2009/2010 = 13,000)

It is apparent from Fig. 2. that constrained time in case of women is higher than in case of men, in each survey period. It is also true, that the amount of constrained time is decreasing from period to period for both sexes. The amount of leisure time in turn shows an increasing tendency, but women’s share in leisure time is less than men’s. Time spent on personal care has only slightly changed and there are no huge differences (larger than 12 min) between men and women. We can propose from these data, that women’s increased workload might be compensated by time ‘stolen’ from leisure.

The present paper analyses the structure of leisure based on the last three Hungarian surveys, referring to the period of 1986–2010. The amount of leisure by sex was analysed by place of residence (Fig. 3.), age (Fig. 4.), labour market situation (Fig. 5.) and level of education (Fig. 6.). Male related data were depicted with the help of a stacked column chart, while women related data were depicted with the help of a stacked line graph. The analysis of figures is possible in three directions: 1. vertically, comparing the analysed survey periods; 2. horizontally, analysing by a given background variable and 3. comparing male (column) and female (lines) data for gender differences. We have also indicated the actual time spent in minutes for leisure in each case, to be able to compare numerically the data as well and to aid the understanding of the visual representation depicted by the figures, which serve as illustrator materials to make differences across time and between the sexes more transparent. In each figure from now on, the same colouring pattern is used, with dark shades for women and lighter shades for men: blue for the 1986/87, orange/red for the 1999/2000, and green for the 2009/2010 survey period. Secondary analysis of already published data was performed with no higher statistical measures included that is why the tendencies obtained are worded only in a moderate way. In summary we could state, that the male and female datasets offer similar tendencies along the background variables, with visible gender-related emphasis.
Fig. 3

Leisure time budget by sex and place of residence

Fig. 4

Leisure time budget by sex and age

Fig. 5

Leisure time budget by sex and labour market situation

Fig. 6

Leisure time budget by sex and education

Figures 3, 4, 5, and 6 indicate, that the amount of time spent on leisure decreases by the status of residence. The reason behind could be the differences in the dominant type of work, as agriculture and farming is more frequent in the villages, offering less space for free time. Along the individual survey periods, first there is an increase, then a decrease in the amount of leisure time in case of both sexes. The time spent on leisure has a curvilinear relationship with age: it decreases first, and then from the age of 50 it increases. Therefore, the active working ages offer the least amount of leisure, which situation changes approaching and entering into pension. The same age-related tendency is reflected in case of labour market situation as well. Those employed or on a maternity leave or housewives have the smallest amount of leisure time, while pupils, students and pensioners have the biggest amount, together with unemployed people. Observed by the level of education, people with the lowest education level have the most leisure time. Low education presupposes unemployment. People, who have a vocational education, possess the smallest amount of leisure time.

3.2 Time budget by leisure structure

The Hungarian time budget surveys depict the structure of leisure along the following activities: 1. social leisure, 2. reading, 3. watching TV, video, using the Internet, 4. walking, excursions, 5. sports, physical exercises, 6. house plants and pets care, 7. religious practices, 8. cinema visits, 9. visiting other cultural institutes, 10. listening to the radio, 11. hobbies. We do not perform further analysis on activities 7. – 11. from now on, as the average minutes spent on them is very low. Figures 7, 8, 9, and 10. depict the tendencies in social leisure.
Fig. 7

Social leisure budget by sex and place of residence

Fig. 8

Social leisure budget by sex and age

Fig. 9

Social leisure budget by sex and labour market situation

Fig. 10

Social leisure budget by sex and education

Overall, people spend less and less time on social leisure. Figures 7, 8, 9, and 10 suggest the followings: There seem to be no remarkable residential differences in the social leisure of men, while women living in other cities and villages suffer from less leisure time. Social leisure appears to be decreasing by age; which tendency takes a slight increasing turn from the age of 50. 15–19-year-old girls and 50–74-year-old women reported more social leisure. For men social leisure increases at the age periods of 20–29 and 30–39 years, which could be connected to their need for establishing social capital. The labour market situation seems to reflect the age tendencies: social leisure of pupils and students, especially the female ones, is the highest, while active workers, housewives and women on a maternity leave has the least social leisure time. In the pensioner group, women take the lead also.

Figures 11, 12, 13, and 14 show the average time spent on reading.
Fig. 11

Reading budget by sex and place of residence

Fig. 12

Reading budget by sex and age

Fig. 13

Reading budget by sex and labour market situation

Fig. 14

Reading budget by sex and education

Figures 11, 12, 13, and 14 appear to indicate that people read less and less by the observed periods. It is especially true for those living in villages, boys aged 15–19 and male pupils/students, and the lowly educated. Within this decreasing tendency, however those living in county seats spend a larger amount of time on reading; people aged 60–74 years, and pensioners, as well as those with high level of education. In the last survey women spent more time on reading than men regardless of the level of education selected.

Figures 15, 16, 17, and 18 illustrate the time budget spent on watching TV and video, and using the Internet. This is the leading category from among the observed elements of leisure time and it shows an increasing tendency period by period.
Fig. 15

TV, Video, Internet budget by sex and place of residence

Fig. 16

TV, Video, Internet budget by sex and age

Fig. 17

TV, Video, Internet budget by sex and labour market situation

Fig. 18

TV, Video, Internet budget by sex and education

The type of residence does not seem to differentiate in the media use habits, a slight extra time in case of people living in county seats might be found only. There appears to be a steady increase by age for men, while there is an initial slight decrease in case of women, followed by a steep increase. The male figures look considerably higher compared to those of women in each age group. The age-related tendencies look again similar to the labour market related tendencies: pensioners use these media the most. The tendencies by the level of education are the contrary of the tendencies observed concerning reading, that is, TV and video watching and Internet using time seems to be decreasing by the increase in the level of education. Unfortunately, we do not have information on the distribution of minutes among the three different activities mentioned in the category. Media use time of people with a vocational level of education indicates a continuous increase period by period.

Figures 19, 20, 21, and 22. depict the walking and excursion elements of a physically active leisure.
Fig. 19

Walking, excursions budget by sex and place of residence

Fig. 20

Walking, excursions budget by sex and age

Fig. 21

Walking, excursions budget by sex and labour market situation

Fig. 22

Walking, excursions budget by sex and education

As the status of settlements decreases, the amount of time spent on walking and excursion decreases. This could be in connection with the preference of non-physical recreation after a more physical (agricultural) work characterising the villages. In case of 15–19-year-old boys there appears to be a drastic decrease in time spent on walking and excursions period by period. It seems to be a much frequent activity in case of 15–19-year-old girls, followed by a strong decrease by the age of 20–29 and above. This finding partly relates to the review of Pollard and Wagnild (2017) stating that more women walk for leisure than men do. The above age-related tendency is reflected along the labour market situation also. The walking and excursion activity of unemployed men is increasing, while the same of unemployed women is decreasing. The higher the level of education is, the higher this activity appears in case of both sexes.

The other aspect of physical activity is time spent with sports and physical exercises, presented on Figs. 23, 24, 25, and 26.
Fig. 23

Sports budget by sex and place of residence

Fig. 24

Sports budget by sex and age

Fig. 25

Sports budget by sex and labour market situation

Fig. 26

Sports budget by sex and education

The average leisure time spent on sports and physical exercises is generally low, especially in case of women. The amount of this activity decreases from the Capital towards the villages. While 15–19-year-old girls are the most active in walking and excursions, here, in case of sports and physical exercises 15–19-year-old boys are the most active. This activity is increasing period by period in case of men, while it is constantly low in case of women. This statement is in line with the findings of Kono et al. (2018), talking about a more intense and more frequent leisure-time physical activity in case of men. Similarly, boy pupils/students sport the most, women on maternity leave and housewives sport the least. Women with low and mid-level education exercise only a little, and men with higher education sport more intensively.

Figures 27, 28, 29, and 30 give account on the amount of leisure time spent with houseplants and pets care.
Fig. 27

Plants and pets budget by sex and place of residence

Fig. 28

Plants and pets budget by sex and age

Fig. 29

Plants and pets budget by sex and labour market situation

Fig. 30

Plants and pets budget by sex and education

Though the average time spent on taking care of pets and houseplants is rather low, we still found it interesting to include in the analysis, as it seems to be the activity performed with a similar intensity by men and women too. The highest activity characterises Budapest, the Capital, those aged 60–74 years and pensioners in case of both sexes. The level of education does not seem to differentiate much.

4 Conclusions

The gender-specific analysis of Hungarian time budget surveys underline several aspects of unequal opportunities of men and women. Women spend more time on socially constrained workload than men do, thanks to their unilateral responsibilities in household tasks and child rearing. As 24 h make a day up, regardless of genders, this excess time should be taken away from an other set of activities, namely from leisure. Mothers with small children, women on a maternity leave, housewives and the actively working women have the smallest amount of leisure time. Women with a vocational education and those living in lower status settlements also possess less time for leisure. Analysis by age revealed, that 30–39 and 40–49-year-old women have the least leisure time. This is the life period, when women have to do well in several roles: raising children, taking care of old parents, housekeeping, work. This multiple workload threatens women’s mental health. Research results of the Health Promotion Research Group at the Institute of Applied Health Sciences and Health Promotion indicated, that half of 45–64-year-old women with a diploma were mentally vulnerable (51.3%) and a quarter of them were mentally endangered (23,8%) (Lippai and Erdei 2016). The situation of 18–44-year-old women with primary level education is also worth noting, as their mental status was similar to data referring to lowly educated 66 and above years old women. Only 20.3% of 18–44-year-old-women could be considered mentally healthy, 42.4% were mentally vulnerable, and 37.3% was mentally endangered (Lippai and Erdei 2016). The same research was performed among university students also. 66.20% of male student respondents could be considered mentally healthy, while only 40.20% of female student respondents belonged to the same category. 29.20% of male student respondents were in the vulnerable and 4.60% of them were in the endangered group, compared to the corresponding 46.40% and 13.30% of female student respondents (Tarkó et al. 2016).

„Analogous to the holistic health concept, leisure can also be considered as a holistic resource: it affects our physical, mental and emotional well-being (health), promotes social integration, socialises, educates, exercises an effect on balancing sexual energies, it can be the means of expressing our identity, and its performance is connected to our natural and built environment.” (Benkő 2017. p. 2.). In the light of all these it is extremely important to spend enough and quality time on leisure to recreate our energies, and it is especially important in case of women. A more effective time management could earn extra time for leisure.

To be able to manage our time effectively, a system containing every smaller or larger activities is recommended to be set up. The starting point of creating this system is to define the scope of our repetitive tasks. To make a good use of this system time it is important to forget aimless idleness. Our timetable can be effective only if it is functional. It is no problem if this carefully developed system sometimes is a bit unbalanced. However, if this unbalance becomes regular and we cannot perform our tasks, the ‘to do list’ overflows and we are under time pressure, that requires action. We might have over-planned our time or our life has changed. When time causes frustration only and does not serve us, it is high time for a change. In this case, we have to reconsider our priorities and the corresponding tasks, as well as our limits and revise our lifestyle and life conduct accordingly. If someone needs assistance in performing the required lifestyle changes, trained lifestyle counsellors would be the right professionals to turn to for help (Tarko and Benko 2017, 2014).


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Juhász Gyula Faculty of Education, Institute of Applied Health Sciences and Health PromotionUniversity of SzegedSzegedHungary

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