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University students (N = 301) in Estonia, Morocco, and the United States read scenarios about various scheduled appointments and indicated the time at which a person arriving would be inappropriately early or inappropriately late. Participants also completed measures of time orientation, collectivism, and personality. Definitions of “on time” varied substantially across countries and across individuals but interacted in a regular fashion with specific features of appointments (e.g., the purpose of an appointment or the status of persons involved). Flexible definitions of “on time” were associated with youth, collectivist values, and a fatalistic orientation toward the present. Finally, definitions of “on time” were largely independent of personality traits. Taken as a whole, personal standards of punctuality appear to be best understood within a situational and sociocultural—rather than dispositional—framework.
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Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology
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DOI: 10.1177/0022022110362746
2011 42: 482 originally published online 20 July 2010Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology
Lawrence T. White, Raivo Valk and Abdessamad Dialmy
What Is the Meaning of ''on Time''? The Sociocultural Nature of Punctuality
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DOI: 10.1177/0022022110362746
What Is the
Meaning of “On Time”?
The Sociocultural Nature
of Punctuality
Lawrence T. White
, Raivo Valk
, and
Abdessamad Dialmy
University students (N = 301) in Estonia, Morocco, and the United States read scenarios about
various scheduled appointments and indicated the time at which a person arriving would be
inappropriately early or inappropriately late. Participants also completed measures of time
orientation, collectivism, and personality. Definitions of “on time” varied substantially across
countries and across individuals but interacted in a regular fashion with specific features of
appointments (e.g., the purpose of an appointment or the status of persons involved). Flexible
definitions of “on time” were associated with youth, collectivist values, and a fatalistic orientation
toward the present. Finally, definitions of “on time” were largely independent of personality
traits. Taken as a whole, personal standards of punctuality appear to be best understood within
a situational and sociocultural—rather than dispositional—framework.
punctuality, culture, norms, time orientation, Estonia, Morocco
I daresay their kind don’t set much store by punctuality.
—Uncle Vernon Dursley, as he waits for a family of wizards to arrive,
in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Rowling, 2000, p. 42)
Social scientists, business travelers, and others frequently report that different cultural groups
have different norms or practices regarding punctuality. Some of these “time frames” are well
known. In Anglo time, time is money and punctuality is highly valued. Mañana (Spanish for
tomorrow, or literally morning) refers to a Latin American time frame in which “the business of
today is put off until tomorrow” (Epstein, 1977, p. 52). In Navajo Indian time, meetings typically
begin 1 hour or more after the stated time (Hopkins, 2006). Mormons in Utah “have developed
promptness to a degree that is unknown in the rest of the country” (Hall, 1959/1981, p. 143) and,
in traditional areas of the southern United States, there is little need to apologize for being early or
Beloit College, Beloit, WI, USA
University of Tartu, Tartu, Estonia
Mohamed V University, Rabat, Morocco
Corresponding Author:
Lawrence T. White, Department of Psychology, Beloit College, 700 College Street, Beloit, WI 53511, USA
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White et al. 483
late because there is “a greater permissible spread, or a wider range of deviation from the point”
(p. 161). CPT or colored people’s time is an expression used primarily by African Americans to
refer to a casual attitude toward the value of time; events start when the principals arrive, not when
the appointed hour is reached (Jones & Brown, 2005). Rubber time is used by Indonesians to jok-
ingly refer to their laid-back attitude about appointments and deadlines (Alves, 1997). In Moroccan
time, there is no need to be prompt on all occasions because, as expressed in two popular proverbs,
“today is like tomorrowand “there is no need to be prompt for a good thing.” According to Pärdi
(n.d.), older persons in Estonia value “German-style” punctuality and often criticize younger
Estonians for adopting a Soviet mentality that does not emphasize the importance of punctuality.
Given the ease with which one can find statements about time frames and standards of punc-
tuality in different parts of the world, one might assume there have been many studies on the
subject. That is not the case. Indeed, with one exception, the number of empirical studies of
punctuality is astonishingly meager.
The exception is in the realm of industrial/organizational psychology, where numerous
researchers have carefully investigated the determinants of employee tardiness (e.g., Blau, 1986;
Clegg, 1983; Koslowsky, Sagie, Krausz, & Dolman, 1997; Leigh & Lust, 1988). Researchers have
found, for example, that tardiness is predicted by low job satisfaction (Adler & Golan, 1981;
Gupta & Jenkins, 1983) and by organizational commitment, employee’s level of time urgency,
and age of the employee’s youngest child (Dishon-Berkovits & Koslowsky, 2002). To our knowl-
edge, only one published study has investigated the relationship between employee tardiness and
personality. In their study of 181 train operators, Conte and Jacobs (2003) found no significant
relationships between tardiness and any of the so-called Big Five personality factors.
Only a few researchers have investigated punctuality within different cultural contexts. This
is surprising, given the conventional wisdom that different practices related to punctuality can
hinder the formation of effective and satisfying intercultural relationships. An early study of
returning Peace Corps volunteers found that, after language difficulties, the most challenging
aspects of the Peace Corps experience were “the general pace of life” and “how punctual most
people are” (Spradley & Phillips, 1972). Brislin and Kim (2003) also identified punctuality as
one of the ways in which intercultural transactions can be complicated by cultural differences.
In our extensive search of the literature, we found only two published studies of punctuality within
a cross-cultural context. Levine, West, and Reis (1980) found that Americans valued punctuality more
highly than did Brazilians, and Brazilians were more flexible than Americans in their definitions of
early and late. Levine and Bartlett (1984) found a weak relationship between Type A behaviors and
attitudes toward punctuality among American university students (i.e., high Type A individuals were
more likely to rate punctuality as an important quality in both friends and businesspersons) but could
not replicate the finding in a separate sample of 36 female students in Calcutta, India.
In the exploratory study reported here, we sought to extend the findings of Levine and his
colleagues by comparing definitions of early and late in three different countries—Estonia (in
northeastern Europe), Morocco (in North Africa), and the United States. More important, we
sought to determine the degree to which these definitions depend on (a) specific situational fac-
tors (e.g., the purpose of an appointment, the status of persons involved), (b) sociocultural factors
(e.g., economic development, collectivism), and (c) dispositional characteristics (e.g., time
orientation, personality traits).
Participants were 301 university students in three countries: Estonia (n = 101, 67% female, 94%
ethnic Estonian, 85% middle class), Morocco (n = 75, 27% female, 75% Arab and 24% Amazigh/
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484 Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology 42(3)
Berber, 96% middle class), and the United States (n = 125, 74% female, 90% white, 73% middle
class). The mean ages of Estonian, Moroccan, and American participants were 19.3, 19.3, and
19.7 years, respectively. Most Estonian and American participants were enrolled in social
science courses; all Moroccan participants were medical students. All participated voluntarily
and were citizens of their respective country. (The responses of 12 international students were
eliminated from the U.S. sample.)
Materials and Procedure
All participants were recruited to participate in a study of “time and personality.” They com-
pleted a packet of questionnaires in a classroom. All materials were translated by bilinguals into
the language used most frequently in each country (i.e., Estonian, Arabic, or English).
Before opening the packet of questionnaires, participants completed a time-estimation task.
On a signal from the experimenter, participants scrutinized a complex diagram. After 47 seconds
had elapsed, the experimenter told participants to set the diagram aside and estimate the length
of time (in seconds) they had examined the diagram.
Participants then read scenarios about work-related appointments or a social engagement and
indicated the time at which a person arriving would be inappropriately early or inappropriately
late. For example, participants read that a student was to meet a teacher in his office at 3:00 in
the afternoon. Participants were asked, “Suppose the student arrives before 3:00. At what time
would you consider the student to be inappropriately early?” A participant’s score on this item
was the absolute difference between the stated meeting time (3:00) and the time reported by the
participant as inappropriately early (e.g., 2:45). The scenarios (see Table 1) were similar to sce-
narios used by Levine et al. (1980).
Participants completed the Zimbardo Time Perspective Inventory (ZTPI), which measures
one’s orientation or “bias” toward five time perspectives: past-positive, past-negative, present-
hedonistic, present-fatalistic, and future. Items includemy life path is controlled by forces
I cannot influence” (present-fatalistic) and “I’ve made mistakes in the past that I wish I could
Table 1. Seven Items Used to Measure Definitions of “Early” and “Late”
A teacher asks a student to meet him
in his office at 3:00 p.m.
1. Suppose the student arrives before 3:00. At what time would you
consider the student to be inappropriately early?
2. Suppose the student arrives sometime after 3:00. At what time
would you consider the student to be inappropriately late?
3. Suppose the teacher does not arrive to his office until after
3:00. At what time would you consider the teacher to be
inappropriately late?
You have invited a close friend to come
to your house for lunch at 1:00 p.m.
Your friend will be the only guest.
4. Suppose your friend arrives before 1:00. At what time would you
consider your friend to be inappropriately early?
5. Suppose your friend arrives sometime after 1:00. At what time
would you consider your friend to be inappropriately late?
A government official asks a
government worker to meet him at
a cafe at 10:00 a.m.
6. Suppose the worker does not arrive until after 10:00. At what
time would you consider the person to be inappropriately late?
7. Suppose the government official does not arrive at the café until
after 10:00. At what time would you consider the government
official to be inappropriately late?
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White et al. 485
undo” (past-negative). Responses to statements are measured on a 5-point Likert scale. The five
subscales of the ZTPI demonstrate acceptable reliability and validity (Keough, Zimbardo, &
Boyd, 1999; Rothspan & Read, 1996; Zimbardo & Boyd, 1999).
Participants completed the ESTCOL, which measures three types of collectivism: family,
peers/companionship, and society/patriotism. Items include “in life, family interests are most
important” (family) and “everything should be equally shared between friends” (peers). Responses
to statements are measured on a 5-point Likert scale. The three subscales of the ESTCOL dem-
onstrate acceptable reliability and validity (Realo, Allik, & Vadi, 1997).
Participants also completed the NEO-Five Factor Inventory (NEO-FFI; Costa & McCrae,
1992), which measures five major dimensions of personality: neuroticism, extraversion, open-
ness, agreeableness, and conscientiousness. The NEO-FFI is a reliable and valid instrument that
has been used by personality researchers in numerous countries (McCrae & Allik, 2002).
Results and Discussion
Reliability Analyses
All measures demonstrated acceptable levels of interitem consistency (i.e., a > .60) across sam-
ples. Reported values are Cronbach’s alpha, based on standardized items. For the seven
punctuality items, a = .76. For the ZTPI scales, a = .77 for Past-Positive, .79 for Past-Negative,
.78 for Present-Hedonistic, .63 for Present-Fatalistic, and .69 for Future. For the ESTCOL, a = .87
for the scale as a whole, .79 for the Family subscale, .63 for the Peers subscale, and .88 for the
Society subscale. For the NEO-FFI factors, a = .86 for Neuroticism, .79 for Extraversion, .77 for
Openness, .73 for Agreeableness, and .81 for Conscientiousness.
Structural Equivalence of Measures
To examine the structural equivalence of the measures, we used a principal components analysis
(followed by a varimax rotation) to identify the factor structures of the ZTPI, ESTCOL, and
NEO-FFI within each country sample. Next, for each questionnaire, we combined all responses
into a single data set and factor analyzed the pooled matrix. After a Procrustes target rotation, we
compared the factors found in the three countries to the pooled solution. That is, the three sam-
ples were compared not with each other but with the overall “averaged” factor solution (cf. Van
de Vijver, 2003). For the ZTPI, mean Tucker coefficients of congruence (Tucker, 1951) were .88,
.82, and .88 for the Morocco, Estonia, and U.S. samples, respectively. For the ESTCOL, mean
coefficients were .86, .77, and .82. For the NEO-FFI, mean coefficients were .75, .73, and .78.
Tucker values smaller than .85 are taken to indicate nonnegligible incongruities between the
factor structures. Such values are adequate, however, when one seeks to evaluate factorial simi-
larity at a molar level (Van de Vijver & Leung, 1997). In short, the ZTPI, ESTCOL, and NEO-FFI
are not structurally identical in our samples, yet, for each measure, comparable factors appear to
be represented in all three groups.
For the sake of clarity, we have organized our discussion of the results around seven questions
that guided our investigation. Note that these questions cannot be fully answered without further
Question 1: Do personal standards of punctuality vary across cultures? To what extent do univer-
sity students in Estonia, Morocco, and the United States have different definitions of early and
late? Table 2 displays summary statistics for participants’ responses to the punctuality scenarios.
We averaged all seven punctuality scores (i.e., definitions of early and late) for each participant
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486 Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology 42(3)
to produce a measure we call On-Time Window (OTW). Individuals with larger OTW scores
have wider, more flexible windows for what counts as “on time.”
A two-way analysis of variance—with sex and country as independent variables and OTW
score as the dependent variable—revealed a large difference among countries, F(2,237) = 19.29,
p < .001, R
= .17. Post hoc tests revealed that Moroccan OTWs (M = 35.6 min, SD = 13.6) were
substantially larger than Estonian OTWs (M = 26.3 min, SD = 13.9, p < .001), and Estonian
OTWs were larger than American OTWs (M = 20.8 min, SD = 9.6, p = .002).
We sought to account for these large country differences. First, for the three countries in our
study, we observed a strong inverse relationship (r = –.99) between a country’s Human Develop-
ment Index score (United Nations Development Program, 2008) and its average OTW, which
suggests that individuals in more highly developed societies possess less flexible definitions of
“on time.” Wealthier, more highly developed societies are also faster paced societies (Levine,
1997). Thus, narrow OTWs may be an adaptive response to living in a fast-paced society in
which time has become a commodity that should not be wasted.
Second, we observed that Moroccans (M = 25.8 on a 9-45 scale) and Estonians (M = 25.1) in
our study scored higher than Americans (M = 20.5) on the ZTPI Present-Fatalistic scale,
F(2,298) = 39.47, p < .001. Moreover, Present-Fatalistic scores were correlated with OTWs
(r = .20, p = .002). To be present-fatalistic is to have a que sera sera (whatever will be, will be)
attitude toward life. Individual items on the scale include “my life path is controlled by forces
I cannot influence” and “you can’t really plan for the future because things change so much.”
This view of life is similar to the concept of Insha’Allah in Morocco and other Islamic coun-
tries. The phrase literally means “God willing,” but Insha’Allah also has several idiomatic
meanings. It can mean something between yes and no, including “possibly” and “perhaps,” but
is also similar to the Spanish concept of mañana. As noted earlier, popular proverbs in Morocco
Table 2. Summary Statistics of Participants’ Responses to Seven Punctuality Items, by Country
Estonia Morocco United States Total
Item M SD Mode M SD Mode M SD Mode M SD Mode
Student arrives 24.9 22.7 15 38.9 27.0 30, 60 25.2 12.8 30 28.0 20.9 30
early to meet
Student arrives 15.5 11.2 10 15.7 13.9 15 11.2 5.7 10 13.6 10.0 10
late to meet
Teacher arrives 13.9 9.1 10 18.3 19.8 15 11.0 5.9 10 13.5 11.3 15
late to meet
Friend arrives 61.8 61.3 30 90.5 49.3 120 44.2 31.2 30 60.5 50.4 30
early for lunch
Friend arrives 47.6 41.3 30 53.9 35.6 60 32.9 19.0 30 42.5 33.0 30
late for lunch
Worker arrives 10.7 6.5 10 13.0 11.9 5 9.7 6.8 10 10.8 8.2 10
late to meet
Official arrives 12.3 8.7 10 21.1 22.7 30 11.2 9.9 10 13.9 14.2 10
late to meet
Note: All values are in minutes.
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White et al. 487
signify there is no need for punctuality and promptness in all one’s affairs. Given these features
of Moroccan culture, it is not surprising to learn that Moroccans have more flexible definitions
of “on time” than do Americans, who have learned from an early age that “the early bird gets the
worm” and “time is money.” Does this mean Moroccans do not value punctuality? Not at all. In
Morocco, punctuality is valorized within a religious context. Moroccans express great respect
toward persons who conduct their daily prayers at the proper time because the Koran says, “For
believers, prayer is a sacred appointment.”
Estonians also were relatively fatalistic and appear to have a relaxed understanding of “on
time” but probably for different reasons. In the past 15 to 20 years, Estonians have experienced
turbulent changes as their country has transformed itself from a semi-autonomous, Soviet repub-
lic to an achievement-oriented, free-market–loving member of the European Union. As a result,
Estonians in our study may have more tolerance for early and late arrivers because they perceive
social norms to be in a state of flux; the unwritten rules that govern behavior have changed and
will continue to change for some time.
Question 2: Are norms of punctuality clearly defined? Within a culture, is the meaning of “on time”
clearly defined and widely shared or is it imprecise and idiosyncratic? In their study of Brazilians
and Americans, Levine, West, and Reis (1980) did not report the variability in individual scores,
but an inspection of mean differences and associated F values indicates that standard deviations
were substantial (i.e., participants varied widely in their definitions of early and late). In each
country, there seemed to be no widely shared, precise standard for what counts as “on time.”
We observed a similar pattern in our data. Participants’ responses to the punctuality scenarios
varied substantially (see Table 2). Within each country, there appear to be large individual differ-
ences with respect to personal definitions of “on time.” Such a high degree of variability suggests
that punctuality norms in all three countries are “fuzzy” and, as a result, there is no broad con-
sensus about proper arrival behavior.
Question 3: Do persons in different cultures segment time differently? According to Levine (1997),
most Americans assess punctuality in units of 5 min, but most Arabs assess punctuality in units of
15 min (i.e., “a quarter of an hour”). Americans, for example, are more likely to say someone will be 5
or 10 min late, whereas Arabs are more likely to say someone will be a quarter-hour or half-hour late.
Our data provide partial support for Levine’s claim. First, for the time-estimation task, we
counted the number of participants who reported their estimate (of how much time had elapsed)
as a multiple of 5 (e.g., 55 s). The percentages of Estonians, Moroccans, and Americans who
estimated the length of time as a multiple of 5 were 81%, 74%, and 93%, respectively. Tests for
the difference between two proportions revealed that Americans used multiples of 5 more often
than did Estonians (p = .007) and Moroccans (p = .0004).
Second, we examined participants’ responses to the punctuality scenarios and calculated, for
each country, the percentage of responses expressed as a multiple of 15 (e.g., 45 min). The per-
centages of Estonian, Moroccan, and American responses expressed as a multiple of 15 were
50%, 65%, and 47%, respectively. Tests for the difference between two proportions revealed that
Moroccans used multiples of 15 more often than did Americans (p = .02) and Estonians (p = .06).
Moroccans in our study were more likely to partition time into 15-min intervals. This may
explain, at least in part, why Moroccan on-time windows are typically larger than Estonian and
American windows. An American who arrives 10 min after the appointed time is late by “two
units of psychological time.” A Moroccan who is late by the same two units has arrived 30 min
(i.e., “two quarters of an hour”) after the appointed time. To achieve metric equivalence when
thinking about punctuality in cultural contexts, it may be necessary to think in terms of psycho-
logical time instead of formal “clock time.”
Question 4: Are standards of punctuality more flexible for social engagements than for business
meetings? To address this question, we used participants’ responses to the scenarios in which a
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488 Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology 42(3)
person arrives late for a meeting with a teacher (or student), for a lunch date with a friend, and
for a meeting with a government official (or worker). The first and third scenarios represent
work-related appointments, whereas the second represents a social engagement. We conducted
a matched-samples t test to determine whether participants’ OTW scores were generally larger
for social engagements than for work-related appointments. Participants’ late scores for work-
related appointments (M = 12.2 min, SD = 7.1) were much smaller than their late scores for
lunch with a friend (M = 40.0 min, SD = 27.9), t(256) = –16.85, p < .001, d = –1.05. This pattern
of larger late windows for lunch with a friend and smaller late windows for work-related appoint-
ments was found in all three countries, with all values of p < .001 and effect sizes ranging from
–1.03 in the Estonian sample to –1.28 in the U.S. sample.
These findings parallel those of other researchers. Levine, West, and Reis (1980) found that
American and Brazilian students were more flexible in their definitions of early and late when
the scheduled appointment was lunch with a friend or a nephew’s birthday party than when the
appointment was with a teacher or government official. Francis-Smythe and Robertson (1999)
asked 13 individuals to talk freely about their experiences of time including punctuality. “The
strongest theme to emerge from the data wasthe effect of situational context on many of the
dimensions. Attitudes to time were often very different depending on whether they related to
being at work, at home or on holiday” (p. 278).
Social engagements are more relaxed and less formal than business meetings. Casual attire
and informal speech are the norm. Business meetings, on the other hand, usually occur during the
work day. If the beginning of a meeting must be delayed because of a late arrival, the schedules
of many people are affected and they are likely to become frustrated. In short, the cost of non-
punctuality in business settings is substantially greater than it is for social engagements.
Question 5: Are standards of punctuality more flexible for arriving early than arriving late? Across
cultures, is it more taboo to arrive after the appointed time than it is to arrive before the appointed
time? If so, why? Migliore (1989) tells the story of a Sicilian-Canadian family who invite several
other families to lunch in their home. The guests are asked to arrive at 1:00, but they know they
can legitimately arrive at any time between noon and 1:30. The on-time window in Migliore’s
story is asymmetrical; acceptable arrival times extend 1 hr before the appointed time but only
30 min after the appointed time.
We conducted two matched-samples t tests to determine whether participants’ OTWs were
symmetrical or asymmetrical with respect to early and late. For the scenario in which a student
meets a teacher in the teachers office, participants’ early windows (M = 27.9 min, SD = 20.4)
were typically twice as large as their late windows (M = 13.6 min, SD = 10.0), t(268) = 11.72,
p < .001, d = .72. For the scenario in which a person arrives at a friend’s home for lunch, partici-
pants’ early windows (M = 59.5 min, SD = 48.7) were nearly 50% larger than their late windows
(M = 41.9 min, SD = 32.2), t(263) = 7.29, p < .001, d = .45. This pattern of larger early windows
and smaller late windows was found for both scenarios in all three countries, with p values rang-
ing from .001 to .01 and effect sizes ranging from 0.27 (Estonia; friend comes to lunch) to 1.14
(United States; student meets teacher).
A cost–benefit analysis is helpful in understanding this phenomenon. The costs associated
with arriving late are generally greater than the costs associated with arriving early. Someone
who arrives late may find that the person he or she was to meet has left, the best food and
beverages have been consumed, important decisions have been made, or an important person
has become angry because he or she was made to wait. When one arrives early, costs are mini-
mized. Indeed, one may even benefit. One can spend extra time with a friend or take a few
minutes to compose oneself and feel at ease before an important meeting. One can also arrive
early as part of a self-presentation strategy that aims to induce attributions of motivation and
eagerness to please.
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White et al. 489
Question 6: Does the meaning of “late” depend on the status of the person who arrives late? To our
knowledge, only one published study has examined this question. Halpern and Isaacs (1980)
measured waiting time as a function of status. They asked students and professors how long they
would wait for a professor or a student who was late for an appointment. All 248 respondents
said they would wait longer for a professor than for a student.
We conducted a matched-samples t test to compare participants’ definitions of late when an
official (higher status) arrives late to meet a worker (lower status) and when a worker arrives late
to meet an official. Participants’ definitions of “on time” were significantly more generous when
the official arrived late (M = 14.0 min, SD = 14.3) than when the worker arrived late (M = 10.7
min, SD = 8.2), t(285) = 4.57, p < .001, d = .27. This pattern was found in all three countries, with
values of p ranging from .001 to .053 and effect sizes ranging from 0.17 in the U.S. sample to
0.44 in the Moroccan sample.
We also compared participants’ definitions of “on time” when a teacher (higher status)
arrives late to meet a student (lower status) and when a student arrives late to meet a teacher. In
this case, status did not produce significant differences in participants’ definitions of “on time,”
t(271) = 0.11, n.s. This pattern of nonsignificant differences was found in all three country
samples (see Table 2 for mean scores and standard deviations).
Our findings with respect to status were mixed. On one hand, participants in all three coun-
tries indicated that a worker is expected to arrive promptly when meeting with an official, but an
official can “take his or her time” and not be considered late. On the other hand, we observed no
status-related differences in the scenario that involved a student meeting a teacher at his or her
office. This finding contradicts the finding noted earlier in which all persons questioned said they
would wait longer for a professor than for a student (Halpern & Isaacs, 1980). One possible
explanation for the contradictory findings is that Halpern and Isaacs used the word professor and
we used the word teacher. A university professor may have higher status than a “mere” teacher.
Question 7: Is one’s definition of “on time” influenced by one’s personality, social class, temporal ori-
entation, or collectivist values? We sought to unpack the country differences (see Matsumoto & Yoo,
2006) by examining the influence of various personal characteristics on the size of one’s OTW.
To initially identify predictors of personal standards of punctuality, we correlated participants’
OTW scores with their scores on the measures described earlier. Four variables were weakly corre-
lated with OTW scores. Across countries, older participants had smaller OTWs (r = –.14, p = .03).
As noted earlier, participants who scored relatively high on the ZTPI Present-Fatalistic scale had
larger OTWs (r = .20, p = .002). Participants who scored relatively high on Family Collectivism
(r = .18, p = .005) and Societal Collectivism (r = .25, p = .001) also had larger OTWs. None of
the Big Five personality factors correlated significantly with OTW scores (absolute values of
r ranged from .01 to .09).
In a stepwise regression analysis of the combined samples (N = 244), Societal Collectivism
(b = .215) and ZTPI Present-Fatalism (b = .148) emerged as significant predictors of OTW
scores (multiple R
= .083). Individuals who were more patriotic and more oriented toward the
fatalistic-present had larger, more flexible on-time windows.
Given that Moroccans were more collectivistic (M = 24.3 on a 0-32 scale) than Estonians
(M = 15.1), and Estonians were more collectivistic than Americans (M = 11.8), F(2,298) =
121.68, p < .001, we conducted a path analysis to determine whether the relationship between
country and OTW was mediated by collectivistic values. It was not. ESTCOL scores did not have
a statistically significant effect on OTW scores when other effects in the model were taken into
account (see Table 3).
We conducted three separate stepwise regressions, one for each country. No significant pre-
dictors emerged in the Moroccan sample. In the Estonian sample, the only significant predictor
of OTW scores was participant age (b = –.23). Older Estonians in our sample generally had
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490 Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology 42(3)
narrower OTWs, thus confirming Pärdi’s (n.d.) anthropological report that older Estonians are
more concerned with promptness than are younger Estonians. Indeed, our findings may underes-
timate the actual strength of the relationship because the ages of our Estonian participants fell
within a relatively narrow range (18-36 years).
In the U.S. sample, the only significant predictor of OTW scores was conscientiousness
(b = –.24). This conforms to the American stereotype that conscientious individuals are more
punctual than their less dutiful counterparts. Indeed, one of the items on the NEO-FFI Conscien-
tiousness scale is “I’m pretty good about pacing myself so as to get things done on time.” In the
U.S. sample, responses to this item were significantly, albeit weakly, correlated with OTW scores
(r = –.18, p = .05). The same relationship, however, was not observed in Estonia (r = –.07, n.s.)
or Morocco (r = –.07, n.s.).
Although age and conscientiousness emerged as significant predictors in the Estonian and
U.S. samples, respectively, neither variable accounted for more than 6% of the variation in OTW
scores. It appears that within a country, definitions of “on time” are largely independent of one’s
personality, temporal orientation, social class, and other personal characteristics. Across coun-
tries, patriotic feelings and a fatalistic orientation toward the present predicted the size of one’s
OTW, but these factors in combination accounted for less than 9% of the variance.
General Discussion and Conclusions
As more and more people in the world acquire time-keeping devices, it becomes increasingly
possible to observe whether someone has arrived on time for an appointment. But what is the
exact meaning of “on time”? Is a dinner guest inappropriately early if she arrives 15 min before
the appointed hour? Is a student inappropriately late if he arrives 5 min after the class officially
begins? The answers to these questions appear to depend largely on local norms, the nature of the
rendezvous, and the status of persons involved.
Clearly, norms of punctuality vary across cultures. Equally important, however, is the fact that
these norms appear to be fuzzy—and equally so across diverse cultures. Imagine how a cultural
insider might answer an outsiders question, “How many minutes can I be late without being
inappropriately late?” The most likely answer would be some variant of “it depends.” Such a
state of affairs can make adjustment more difficult for sojourners. Adapting to a new culture is
made easier when norms are widely shared and can be clearly stated. For example, if the rule for
tipping in a restaurant is 15% of the bill and everyone knows the rule, then international visitors
can easily adapt to the local standard. If the rule, however, cannot be stated easily or depends on
several factors (e.g., size of bill, type of restaurant, quality of service), then visitors will struggle
in their attempts to do the right thing.
The present study was designed to be exploratory and wide-ranging, as evidenced by the large
number of guiding questions. As a result, there are several limitations. First, the samples studied
Table 3. Standardized Parameter Estimates of the Effects of Country and Collectivism on the On-Time
Window (OTW)
ESTCOL Scores Mean OTW Scores
Country 1 –.018 .204
Country 2 .582
ESTCOL scores .032
Note. Country 1 is Estonia vs. Morocco and the United States. Country 2 is Morocco vs. Estonia and the United States.
Statistically significant at p < .05.
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White et al. 491
were not randomly selected from larger populations in each country. Indeed, all participants were
university students. Thus, we do not claim that our findings generalize to all Estonians, Moroccans,
and Americans. Second, we investigated norms of punctuality, not punctuality itself. Norms serve
as guides to behavior but do not determine behavior, especially when norms are loose. Third, we
did not measure all variables that may exert an influence on the size of one’s OTW. The punctuality-
related values of one’s parents, for example, may affect one’s definition of “on time.”
Future research may wish to investigate generational differences in standards of punctuality.
Despite the limited age ranges in our samples, we observed a modest inverse relationship between
age and size of OTWs; older people tended to have narrower windows. Arriving on time can be
viewed as a kind of politeness, and other kinds of politeness may also follow generational pat-
terns. In Estonia, for example, younger people are more likely to use sina (the informal you)
instead of teie (the formal you) when addressing someone they have met for the first time. In the
United States, younger people are said to be less likely to hold the door for someone or write a
formal thank-you note. In Morocco, young people are less deferential and less obedient, in part
because Islam (which teaches respect and obedience to elders) is currently viewed as a political
system rather than a method for living a moral life.
When reviewing our many findings, we were struck by the regularity of the observed patterns.
Although norms of punctuality are quite different in Estonia, Morocco, and the United States,
these local norms interact with particular situations in what appears to be a universally predict-
able manner. Arriving early is less taboo than arriving late. Arriving late for a social engagement
is less taboo than arriving late for a business meeting. Making a lower status person wait is less
taboo than making a higher status person wait. Moreover, definitions of early and late appear to
be independent of personal attributes such as personality and temporal orientation. Taken as a
whole, our findings suggest that personal standards of punctuality are best understood within a
situational and sociocultural—rather than dispositional—framework.
Finally, what shall we say about Vernon Dursley? When Harry Potters muggle uncle says of
wizards, “I daresay their kind don’t set much store by punctuality,” he fails to acknowledge the
possibility that wizards may be as punctual as anyone else but simply have a different under-
standing of the meaning of “on time.”
Author Notes
Portions of this paper were presented at the Midwestern Psychological Association meetings in Chicago in
2006. We thank Brian Gallagher and Nuriyeh McLaren for assistance with data collection and entry; Anu
Realo and Aaro Toomela for assistance with data analyses; and Bruce Kenofer, David Matsumoto, and an
anonymous reviewer for valuable comments and suggestions.
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The authors declared no potential conflicts of interests with respect to the authorship and/or publication of
this article.
Financial Disclosure/Funding
The preparation of this article was supported by a National Research Council INTREU (International
Research Experiences for Undergraduates) grant to the first author. Data collection and analysis were sup-
ported by two research grants from the Professional and Program Development Committee at Beloit
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Lawrence T. White is professor of psychology at Beloit College in Wisconsin (USA). He was a Fulbright
Scholar in Estonia in 1997-1998 and has directed study abroad programs in Australia, Estonia, and Morocco.
His research interests include sociocultural influences on perception and cognition.
Raivo Valk received his master of science degree in psychology from University of Tartu, Estonia. His
research interests include time perspective and recognition of emotions.
Abdessamad Dialmy is professor of sociology at the University of Rabat in Morocco. He is a board
member of Social Compass, the international journal of sociology of religion. He also serves as an expert
consultant for international organizations such as WHO, UNICEF, UNFPA, the Population Council,
USAID, and the EU. He has published extensively on gender, sexuality, health, and Islam in Arabic,
French and English. His books include Jeunesse, Sida et Islam au Maroc (Casablanca, Eddif, 2000), and
Le Féminisme au Maroc (Casablanca, Toubkal, 2008).
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الملخص من النظريّات الحديثة في علم النفس الاجتماعي نظرية منظور الزمن لفيليب زمباردو وبويد (1999) التيتقول بأنّ "تصرفات وعواطف وسمات شخصية الفرد وحتى هويّته تعتمد كلّها وبالأساس على منظور الزمن لديه، أي على "مجموع الاتّجاهات التي يمتلكها الفرد، في مرحلة معيّنة من عمره، نحو مستقبله وحاضره وماضيه النفسي". إذ يؤثر الاتّجاه السلبي نحو الزمن الماضي على مواقف وشخصيّة الفرد، كما يوسّع الاتجاه الاستشرافي المعتدل نحو المستقبل مجالات الادراك ويؤثر ايجابا على العمل والخطط المستقبليّة. اخترنا هذه النظريّة كزاوية نظر جديدة لفهم سيكولوجية الشباب العربي والأوروبي والكشف عن صراعاته الهوويّة والاجتماعية. استخدمنا المنهج الوصفي التحليلي والمقارن واعتمدنا في ذلك على بيانات سنة 2018 للاستطلاع الأوروبي "جنريشن وات"Generation What?، الذي عُنِي في السنوات الأخيرة برصد اتّجاهات الشباب في شتى الميادين وفي العديد من دول العالم. أظهرت النّتائج خللا في منظور الزمن لدى الشباب العربي، على عكس الشباب الأوروبي، نتج عنه هويّة متوترة ومتطلعة الى المستقبل لكن في نفس الوقت في قطيعة مع الماضي وغائبة عن الحاضر، أي غير قادرة على تحمّل الاخفاقات والصّعوبات في الحياة. إن التركيز المفرط على المستقبل دون تقدير للماضي أو الحاضر يمكن أن ينجر عنه أزمات نفسية وصراعات في العلاقات الاجتماعيّة تؤثر سلبا على الأهداف والقرارات المستقبلية ولعلّ ذلك ما يفسّر واقع شباب بعض المجتمعات العربيّة وخاصّة تلك التي طالتها الثورات. الكلمات المفتاحية: منظور الزمن؛ استطلاع جنريشن وات؛ الشباب العربي؛ الشباب الأوروبي. Résumé Une des théories les plus récentes en psychologie sociale est celle de la perspective temporelle (PT) de Philip Zimbardo et Boyd (1999) qui dit que les conduites, les émotions et les traits de personnalité d'un individu et même son identité dépendent essentiellement de sa perspective temporelle, c'est à dire de "l'ensemble des attitudes que l'individu possède, à un certain moment de sa vie, à l'égard de son avenir, son présent et son passé psychologiques". Nous avons, ainsi, choisi cette théorie comme un nouvel angle de vue afin de comprendre la psychologie de la jeunesse arabe et européenne, et dévoiler ses conflits identitaires. Nous avons opté pour la méthode descriptive et comparative et nous nous sommes appuyés sur les données de 2018 de l'enquête internationale Generation What? qui s'est consacrée, ces dernières années, à l'étude des attitudes des jeunes dans de nombreux pays du monde. Les résultats ont montré un déséquilibre dans la perspective temporelle chez la jeunesse arabe, contrairement à la jeunesse européenne, traduit par une identité trop projetée vers l'avenir, mais en même temps en rupture avec le passé et le présent. Cette identité futuriste et stressée, pourrait induire des conflits générationnels et affecter négativement les décisions futures. Cela expliquerait, peut-être, les conflits que vivent, actuellement, la jeunesse arabe, en particulier celle touchée par les révolutions du printemps arabe. Abstract One of the most modern theories in social psychology is the time perspective theory (TP) of Philip Zimbardo and Boyd (1999). This theory says that the individual behaviors, feelings, personality traits and even identity depend essentially on his time perspective, which is "the sum of attitudes that the individual has, at a particular period of his life, towards his future, present and psychological past". We chose this theory as a new angle of view to understand the psychology of Arab and European youth and to reveal their identity and conflicts. We used the descriptive, analytical and comparative approach, relied on the 2018 data of the European poll "Generation What?" which in recent years has been concerned with monitoring youth trends in many countries of the world. The results showed an imbalance in the time perspective of the Arab youth, unlike European youth, translated by an identity too projected towards the future, but at the same time at odds with the past and the present. This futuristic and stressed identity could induce generational conflicts and negatively affect future goals and decisions. This would perhaps explain the conflicts currently being experienced by Arab youth, particularly those affected by the Arab Spring revolutions. Keywords: time perspective; Generation What; Arab youth; European youth.
This research examines how arriving late to social gatherings operates as a signal of social connectedness and desirability, leading to elevated sociometric status attributions. Drawing on costly signaling theory and the premises of sociometric status and consumption mimicry, we argue that tardiness to a gathering, as a costly and visible signal, can lead to positive inferences of sociometric status, thereby leading to mimicry. We define fashionably late as a separating equilibrium tardiness based on a signaling game and demonstrate through a series of experimental studies that people infer higher status to late- rather than on-time-arriving people. Consequently, they strive to be in the same social network with such individuals, favor their product choices, and imitate their consumption behaviors. This research contributes to the literature on the conspicuous consumption of time and to research on costly signaling by revealing the powerful influence of signaling (through late arrival to a social event) on perceptions of sociometric status.
Many graduate students enroll in a program abroad to obtain an international education and afterward obtain employment in the host country. The purpose of this research was to evaluate the influence of imposed nonresident status program participation on international graduate level students regarding future employment in Germany. Students were divided between resident and nonresident status and evaluated based on L2 language, development of basic German cultural values and creation of social capital. COVID-19 presented a unique opportunity to evaluate online education for employment preparedness in a foreign country as the participants could not self-select enrollment status. Results from a sample of 91 students indicate that a difference between resident and nonresident status exists – leading to likely employment challenges. Beneficiaries of the results are international business educators, reviewing or designing programs with online aspects, and university and tertiary education institutions, due to insights for enhancing employability for all students, and students, seeking a program abroad and interested in seeking employment in the country. Further, the study offers value to companies recruiting graduate level students from online programs by developing awareness about their integration into a foreign market.
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This study examined job involvement and organizational commitment as interactive predictors of absenteeism and tardiness behaviors. Personnel records and questionnaires were used to collect tardiness and absence data for a subsample of 82 registered staff nurses out of a total sample of 228 nurses from a large Midwestern hospital. Results showed supportfor the hypothesis that individuals showing higher levels of job involvement and organizational commitment would exhibit less unexcused tardiness and absenteeism than those with lower levels of job involvement and organizational commitment. The implications and limitations of these findings are discussed.
Conducted 3 cross-national experiments to investigate the hypothesis that differences between Americans (A's) and Brazilians (B's) in punctuality may be explained by divergent standard errors in their perception of time. Results of Exp I show that public clocks were less accurate in Brazil (B) than in the US. Results of Exp II with 205 A's and 202 B's show that watches were less accurate in B, watchless B's were less accurate than watchless A's in estimating the time of day, and B's were less exact than A's in reporting the time on their watches. Exp III, a questionnaire study of 107 A's and 91 B's, found that B's were more often late for appointments and social gatherings, were more flexible in their definitions of "early" and "late," and expressed less regret over being late than A's. However, A's had more negative overall impressions of a person who is frequently late and rated punctuality as a more important trait in a businessperson and friend than did B's. Thus, standards of timeliness may be broader and less salient for B's than for A's. (13 ref) (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2006 APA, all rights reserved).
To examine the relationship between status and waiting behavior a questionnaire was constructed to measure waiting time as a function of the status of the subject, the status of the person for whom the subject waits, and the situation in which the subject waits. It was predicted that lower status subjects ( n = 124 students) would report that they would wait longer than higher status subjects ( n = 124 professors), all subjects would wait longer for a higher status person than a lower status person and that all subjects would wait longer in an “academic” situation than a “social” situation. All three hypotheses were confirmed.
Two studies examined whether those identified as having a more present time perspective (PTP) are more likely to report using alcohol, drugs, and tobacco. In Study 1, across 2,627 participants from 15 samples, we found that PTP, as assessed by the Zimbardo Time Perspective Inventory, was related to more frequent self-reported alcohol, drug, and tobacco use (Substance Use scale: average r = .34, p < .001). Future time perspective (FTP) was negatively related to reported substance use (average r = -.16, p < .001), but the relation was weaker than that of PTP, suggesting that PTP and FTP are independent constructs. In Study 2, we found that PTP was a significant predictor of reported substance use even after controlling for many personality traits that have been related to increased substance use. These findings indicate that time perspective is an important individual difference construct that should be considered when examining health-related behaviors, such as substance use and abuse, and in planning intervention programs.
This chapter presents reanalyses of data originally reported in McCrae (2001) in an enlarged sample of cultures. Analyses of age and gender differences, the generalizability of culture profiles across gender and age groups, and culture-level factor structure and correlates are replicated after the addition of 30 new subsamples from 10 cultures. Cross-cultural variations in the standard deviations of NEO-PI-R scales are also examined. Standardized factor- and facet-level means are provided for use by other researchers.
This study uses the Tobit econometrics technique to investigate the correlates of work tardiness in a large national sample of workers. Evidence is found indicating that (1) marriage and years of work experience have negative and significant effects on tardiness, (2) professionals, managers, and persons commuting long distances to work report more days tardy than others, and (3) tardiness is not correlated with absenteeism.
This study developed criterion and construct validity evidence for polychronicity, which is the extent to which people prefer to be engaged in two or more tasks or activities at the same time. Hypothesized relationships between polychronicity and lateness, absence, and supervisory ratings of performance were developed and tested in a heterogenous field sample of 181 train operators. Results indicated that polychronicity was significantly related to absence (r = .25), lateness (r = .19), and supervisory performance ratings (r = -.17). Hypothesized Big Five personality dimensions (Conscientiousness, Extraversion, and Neuroticism) were also significantly associated with absence, but not lateness. Specifically, absence was significantly related to Conscientiousness (r = -.23), Extraversion (r = .15), and Neuroticism (r = .19). In addition, polychronicity accounted for variance in absence and lateness beyond that accounted for by hypothesized Big Five personality dimensions, cognitive ability, and demographic characteristics. Future research directions for work on polychronicity are discussed.