I may have found my new favorite data set. The Center on Everyday Lives of Families at UCLA did a study of 32 middle-class, dual-income families in Los Angeles. Researchers documented people’s possessions and videotaped 1500 hours of family activities, recording how and where people were spending their time (the findings are being released as a book in August).
One of the most fascinating findings? Apparently children spent less than 40 minutes a week using their backyards. Adults spent less than 15 minutes, even though many of these families owned a vast arsenal of swing sets, outdoor furniture, even pools.
I find this fascinating — and telling. In Chapter 4 of All the Money in the World, I write about our tendency to want things in our homes that have nothing to do with the lives we actually live. We may picture ourselves living a certain way, but when it comes down to it, we’re spending money on things that may be of limited utility in the real universe, as opposed to our idealized one. Think front doors that open into grand foyers that no one walks through. Dining rooms that get used three times per year. I’m not judging! I own these things too!
My guess is that many of the families in this study purchased their detached, single-family homes — as opposed to condos, or more dense townhouse-type developments — in part because the homes had backyards. We have kids! The kids need a safe place to play!
Except that it turns out the kids use these safe places less than 6 minutes per day.
All fine, unless these families gave something else up to purchase these outdoor spaces that are used less than 6 minutes per day for the kids and about 2 minutes per day for the grown-ups. Did people take on longer commutes? Higher mortgage payments than places with smaller (or shared) yards? Pools in particular are pretty expensive and time consuming to maintain. If the kids wind up using them less than 40 minutes per week (in LA! Where you can use them big chunks of the year!) you’re definitely better off joining a community pool or gym.
There are other fascinating findings in this study that I’ll write about in coming weeks, but the 40 minute figure was a pretty jarring one. I’ve resolved to make sure my kids (and I) do better. I think we’ve been hitting close to 40 minutes a day of late (including firefly catching excursions at dusk) so that’s good. Of course, the kids seem to spend more time in front of the TV than that, despite my best intentions.
How many minutes per week do you and your children spend outside?
Photo courtesy flickr user katmeresin