Spouse ‘‘Together Time’’: Quality Time
Within the Household
Theun Pieter van Tienoven
Accepted: 10 January 2010 / Published online: 13 July 2010
Ó Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010
Abstract During the last decade more and more time-use data were gathered on a
household level in stead of on an individual level. The time-use information of all members
of the household provides much more insight in research ﬁelds that until now largely used
data gathered at the individual level. One of these research ﬁelds is the study of quality of
life, based on the (quality) time partners within a household spend together which in turn is
often linked to studying the associations between the amount of time spent together and
relationship satisfaction. The amount of face-to-face spousal interaction is considered to be
critically important for marital quality and is assumed to be violated within dual-earner
couples, especially those with women working long hours. In this contribution we analyze
the time-use of couples in the Belgian Time Use Surveys of 1999 and 2005. We identify
which activities couples do together and which they do apart, and what household char-
acteristics predict couples’ together time. Working times in general seem the most decisive
factor inﬂuencing the amount of together time. The increased labor market participation of
women, on the other hand, seems not to be so much a threat for the time a couple spends
Keywords Time-use Quality of life Working time Family life
More time-use data are being gathered at the household level, meaning that different
members of the same household register their time-use during the same period instead of as
single individuals. Time-use information at the household level provides far more insight
for research that has been largely dominated by diary information gathered at the indi-
vidual level (Schwartz et al. 2002). Since different members of the household inﬂuence
This research was funded by FWO-Flanders (project number G.0.267.08.N.10).
I. Glorieux J. Minnen (&) T. P. van Tienoven
Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Pleinlaan 2, 1050 Brussels, Belgium
Soc Indic Res (2011) 101:281–287
each other’s behavior (Daly 1996), a ‘‘household [therefore] is more than a convenient
aggregation unit to summarize the behavior of its members’’ (Van Wissen 1991: 3).
One emerging research ﬁeld involves the study of quality of life, based on the (quality)
time partners within a household spend together. This in turn is often linked to associating the
amount of time spent together and relationship satisfaction (for an overview see Guldner and
Swensen 1995). The amount of face-to-face spousal interaction is considered to be critical for
marital quality (Berger and Kellner 1964). Kingston and Nock (1987), for instance, showed
that dual-earner couples spent less time together in domestic life than other couples, and they
linked this to a decrease of marital quality; likewise, Spitze and South (1985) argued that
longer working hours of women could increase the risk of divorce, because of the decrease in
marital interaction time it caused (see also Presser 2000).
The time couples spend together has been measured by retrospective survey questions
(e.g. Gager and Sanchez 2003), by men and women separately (e.g. Kalmijn and Bernasco
2001), or by the simultaneity of time in a time diary—that is the time both partners are
doing the same activity together (e.g. Kingston and Nock 1987). This last method is clearly
the most detailed.
The aim of this article is to identify: (1) which activities couples do together (Table 1),
(2) when they spend more time together (Fig. 1), and (3) what household characteristics
predict couples’ together time (Table 2).
Table 1 Average time (in hours) spent together and individually by Belgian couples and accumulated
couple time (pooled TUS’99 and TUS’05—n = 4,043 households)
Activity cluster Time spent together Time spent individually Accumulated
Hrs % Hrs % Hrs % Hrs %
Paid work and education 0.1 0.8 21.6 64.0 11.9** 35.2 33.8 100.0
Domestic work 5.0 20.1 12.6 25.7 26.7** 54.2 49.3 100.0
Household work 2.4 15.3 5.5 17.7 20.6** 67.0 30.8 100.0
Chores 0.5 11.8 5.2 68.5 1.5** 19.7 7.6 100.0
Shopping and services 1.1 35.4 1.6 26.8 2.3** 37.8 6.0 100.0
Child care and raising 0.3 11.3 1.1 23.3 3.1** 65.4 4.7 100.0
Personal care 62.0 78.3 15.9 10.1 18.5** 11.7 158.3 100.0
Eating and drinking 6.2 58.4 4.4 20.8 4.4 20.9 21.3 100.0
Other personal care 0.6 9.6 4.9 42.8 5.5** 47.7 11.5 100.0
Sleeping and resting 52.2 83.6 9.3 7.4 11.3** 9.0 125.5 100.0
Recreation 18.6 50.9 21.7 28.8 16.5** 21.9 75.4 100.0
Participatory activities 0.2 22.4 1.1 51.2 0.6** 26.4 2.1 100.0
Social life and going out 4.5 42.7 5.8 27.8 6.2** 29.5 20.9 100.0
Leisure outdoor and indoor 1.8 22.1 7.4 45.7 5.2** 32.2 16.2 100.0
Hobbies and games 0.1 18.2 0.9 61.6 0.3** 21.6 1.5 100.0
TV and video 10.0 57.7 8.5 24.9 6.2** 16.2 34.5 100.0
Travel 3.3 34.8 7.1 37.3 5.3** 27.9 19.0 100.0
Total 89.0 53.0 79.0 23.5 79.0 23.5 336.0 100.0
Differences between men and women are signiﬁcant for (*) p \ .05 and (**) p \ .01
282 I. Glorieux et al.
We expect the couples’ employment situation to affect the amount of social quality time
in the sense that dual-earner couples have less time together due to the off-scheduling of
their paid work hours (see above). Moreover, we also expect that the time they spend
together will be inﬂuenced by: (1) the presence of (young) children (because of their
unpredictability), (2) whether the couple cohabitates or is married [since cohabiting people
tend to spend more of their time on separate activities (Kalmijn and Bernasco 2001)],
(3) the number of years of marriage [since the longer people are married the less time they
tend to spend together (Kingston and Nock 1987)], (4) the partners’ ages (if they are in the
busiest 25–44 year age range, with both career opportunities and peak family demands)
and (5) their educational level [because higher educated people tend to work less in non-
standard hours (Hamermesh 2002) and will have a more egalitarian gender-ideology
concerning the division of housework (Calasanti and Bailey 1991)].
Although Kingston and Nock (1987) only found spouse employment, work hours and
off-scheduling to have a signiﬁcant effect on time spent together, it is useful to
re-investigate these other factors, since their survey is now almost 30 years old and only
for a non-representative US subsample. Whether couples with more together time perceive
a higher quality of life and the causal directions involved must be left to other studies
(Gager and Sanchez 2003; Guldner and Swensen 1995; Kalmijn and Bernasco 2001;
Kingston and Nock 1987).
1 Data and Method
The data used here come from pooled (non-panel) time-diary data from two Belgian
national surveys, one conducted in 1999 (TUS’99) and the other in 2005 (TUS’05). This
pooled data set includes 14,782 individuals aged 12 years and above, living in 7,749
households and having completed time diaries for 1 weekday and 1 weekend day. Our
analysis centers on households with two adult partners, with or without children, which
reduces our sample to 4,043 households. Both partners ﬁlled in the diaries on the same
days. The data have been weighted to give an equal spread of household characteristics and
weekdays versus weekend days (Glorieux et al. 2008a).
Fig. 1 Total time together of couples (with interaction and at the same place) for a weekday, Saturday and
Sunday (in percentage of couples) (pooled TUS’99 and TUS’05—n = 4,043 households)
Spouse ‘‘Together Time’’ 283
2.1 Activities Done Together
Table 1 shows the average time both partners spend together and individually on 14
clusters of activities together for a ‘‘synthetic’’ week. Since we analyze both the individual
time of the wife and husband spent on each activity as well as the time they spend together
on each activity (which is logically the same for both spouses), that ‘‘synthetic’’ week sums
up to 336 h (168 for wives ? 168 for husbands). The ﬁrst column in Table 1 presents the
average time spent together as a couple on the speciﬁed activities. The next two columns
present the time spent individually, that is, with no spousal interaction. The last column
contains the total time both partners spend on each activity, and it is derived by multiplying
the time spent together by two and adding the results to the time spent individually by both
partners. The numbers in parentheses refer to the proportions of these couples’ combined
weekly total of 336 h.
Table 2 MCA of the percentage of Belgian couples’ weekly time together (pooled TUS’99 and TUS’05—
n = 2,950 households)
Covariates Unadj. Adj.
Accumulated couple time spent on paid work in hours (**) (°°) -.220 -.168
Accumulated off-scheduled couple time spent on paid work in hours (**) (°°) -1.892 -1.455
Predictors Unadj. Adj.
(1) Earning situation (**)
Single-earner couple 54.4 52.4
Dual-earner couple 51.7 52.6
(2) Living situation
Married 52.4 52.5
Cohabiting 53.2 52.7
(3) Young child(ren) under the age of 7 years (**)
Absent 53.2 52.7
Present 51.0 52.5
(4) Number of children (**) (°°)
No children 54.4 53.8
Only one child 51.4 52.0
Two children 51.7 51.9
Two or more children 50.3 50.9
(5) At least one spouse aged 25–45 years (**)
No 54.3 51.6
Yes 52.0 52.8
(6) At least one spouse higher education or university
No 52.3 52.2
Yes 52.7 52.8
Unadjusted effects are signiﬁcant for (*) p \ .05 and (**) p \ .01
Adjusted effects are signiﬁcant for (°) p \ .05 and (°°) p \ .01
284 I. Glorieux et al.
Overall, couples spend over half of their total time (53%) together. Not surprisingly,
Table 1 shows sleeping & resting, eating & drinking and watching TV & video as the three
activities that couples do jointly more often than individually. Couples average 52.2 h a
week of sleep together, which is almost 84 percent of all the time both partners spend on
sleep and rest. For eating & drinking and for watching TV & video, this proportion is about
60 percent. Also the proportion of time spent together on shopping & services, social life &
going out, leisure (both outdoor and indoor), and travelling is relatively high. However,
these activities have a higher rate of being done individually. Men, for example, tend to
spend almost four times as much time on outdoor and indoor leisure (7.4 h) than they do
together (1.8 h) with their wives. Women, on the other hand, tend to spend almost twice as
much time shopping individually (2.3 h) as they do together with their husbands (1.1 h).
Very few couples do paid work together—less than one percent of the time couples
work. Domestic work (household work, chores and child care & raising) is the most
gendered activity within the household. Not only is there a substantial difference in the
amount of time spent by both partners individually, but also in the proportional division of
the total time. Women do over 60 percent of the total time both partners spent on
household upkeep, and the same holds for childcare. On the other hand, men alone take up
two-thirds of the total time spent on chores. Nevertheless, the difference in time spent on
domestic work between men and women remains considerable.
2.2 Times When Together
Our data make clear that the household is an important spatial scene for socially simul-
taneous activity. These ﬁndings concur with what Huysmans (1996) terms the ‘time cul-
ture’ that characterizes the intra-household interaction and inﬂuences of the allocation of
time of both partners. Therefore, we might use the time partners spend together (regardless
of the type of activity) as an indicator of social quality time and combine it with other
subjective indicators, for example with indicators of satisfaction or time-pressure. Figure 1
shows that most of the time couples spend together occurs during meal times and during
the evening and at night.
Moreover, we see that the ‘time culture’ is more dynamic on weekend days than
weekdays. On Saturdays (and even more on Sundays), couples spend more time together
during the period they usually work on weekdays (i.e., between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m.). On
weekdays about 35 percent of the couples are together around noon, but on Saturdays this
rises to almost 55 percent and on Sundays to over 60 percent. Together time in the evening
and at night is not much affected by working times, and as such we do not see much
difference between weekdays and weekend days in time spend together after 6 p.m. For
Saturday and Sunday work Belgium is ranked at the bottom compared with other European
Countries and is ranked in the middle for evening and night work. Belgium clearly cannot
be seen as a 24/7 society (Evans et al. 2001; Glorieux et al. 2008b).
2.3 Predictors of Together Time
In order to identify the household factors that positively inﬂuence a couple’s time together,
we found, ﬁrstly and not surprisingly, that non-earner couples have more time together
(over 65 percent of the total accumulated couple time). Single-earner couples spend only
about 54 percent together and dual-earner couples some 3 percentage points less. It turns
out that the proportion of time together strongly depends on the time spent on paid work
(which also concurs with Fig. 1), and that the differences between single-earner and
Spouse ‘‘Together Time’’ 285
dual-earner couples are relatively small, because as soon as one of the partners is out to
work, it becomes difﬁcult to do things together. Given the high impact of paid work on
time together, we left non-earner couples out of our model when incorporating more
household characteristics in this analysis.
Table 2 shows a Multiple Classiﬁcation Analysis (MCA) presenting both unadjusted
(bivariate) and adjusted (controlled for the other variables in the model) predictors of the
proportion of spousal time together. The covariates related to working hours by far have
the strongest inﬂuence on the proportion of time together, especially the number of off-
scheduled working hours. These ﬁndings highlight the importance of paid work in
directing the daily rhythm of individual time and time together of single- and dual-earner
couples (see also Glorieux et al. 2008b).
The bivariate (unadjusted) analysis shows that living as a single-earner couple, having
fewer children (or children older than 7 years) and not being middle-aged positively affects
the time together. After controlling for the other variables in the model however, only the
effect of having children persists besides the covariates. We expand the previous analyses
of Kingston and Nock (1987) by incorporating the effect of having children. It is clear from
our analysis that the lack of time together is due mainly to the combination of long working
hours (often as a dual earner couple) and the presence of (younger) children. All the other
differences in Table 2 are relatively small.
In examining the temporal and spatial dimensions of spouse together time, we have found
that some clusters of activities (apart from sleeping, mainly meals, watching TV and going
out) are done more together with one’s spouse than others (mainly paid work, household
work and child care). Using the amount of time together as an indicator of quality time, we
assume that it is important for couples to make time to eat together, to spend time together
in the evening (even in front of the TV set), and to go out together from time to time. This
seems essentially important for those aged 25–44, since their longer work hours in com-
bination with having (young) children, negatively affect the time they spend together.
As found by Nock and Kingston, working times in general seem the most decisive
factor inﬂuencing the amount of together time. Non-working couples have much more
opportunities to do things together and for other couples, working long hours and/or having
off-scheduled working hours and non-overlapping working schedules negatively affect
the time couples spend together. The increased labor market participation of women, on the
other hand, seems not to be so much a threat for the time a couple spends together. The
differences in spouse together time between single-earner and dual-earner couples are
relatively small—once one spouse is at work, it becomes difﬁcult to do things together.
Our ﬁndings are thus largely compatible with those of Kingston and Nock (1987), but with
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