A lot of Germans are short on time

Single parents and the self-employed suffer the most

Lüneburg. Many people in Germany do not have enough time.  This is the conclusion of a recently conducted study at the Leuphana University of Lüneburg, the results of which are being published in the “Journal of Economic Inequality.” A lack of time diminishes one’s feeling of well-being as much as not having enough money does, the researchers concluded. They therefore suggest a new definition of poverty, one that takes the lack of free personal time into account.  According to this new definition, every eighth working person lies below the poverty line. This is also true for one in every five single parents, and for the self-employed the number is as high as one in three.

The researchers analyzed data from sources such as the Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP). This panel has conducted surveys since 1984 among more than 20.000 people from all over Germany about a variety of topics. Sampling tests are conducted randomly. It therefore provides a representative picture of the life circumstances in Germany.

Respondents offered information about their income as well as about the amount of time they spent performing certain daily tasks. Additionally, they indicated how satisfied they were with their own life. Lüneburg economists, Prof. Dr. Joachim Merz und Tim Rathjen, now have correlated these three parameters. ” A lack of time impacts one’s quality of life in similar ways as a lack of money,” Merz said, summarizing one of the key insights of this research.

Money can partially compensate for a lack of time

A second important insight: a lack of time can, at least partially, be compensated for by more money, —and the same is true, the other way around. If you earn a lot but have little free time you are, on average, as content as someone who earns little but has a lot of free time.

Merz and Rathjen developed a new poverty model out of these data. According to the current EU-definition, those who earn less than 60% of the medium income of their country are considered poor. “From the SOEP-data available, we examined only those respondents who worked more than 20 hours a week,” explained Merz. “At the time of the survey, around 6.8% of these fell under the income limit. These 6.8 % are the so-called ‘working poor:’ they are poor in the classical sense, even though they work more than 5 hours a day.”

The new definition of poverty also now includes how much personal free time the respondents have at their disposal. “As a result a few people are lifted out of the poverty zone despite their low income,” the economist explains. “On the other hand other people, who earn enough but have very little free time at their disposal because of work, raising of children, and other obligations, they are now added to the group and designated as poor. ”  Merz refers to this as a multi-dimensional definition of poverty (with the dimensions income and time). According to this definition, 12.3% of Germans are considered poor—in other words, almost twice as many as compared to the income-only perspective on poverty.

At risk: single parents, self-employed, large families

To verify their data, the researchers turned to an additional time-use survey conducted by the Federal Statistical Office during the years 2001/2002. In this survey some 35.000 people provided information by means of a detailed time journal in which they recorded their daily routine in ten-minute intervals.

“These data allow us to indicate very precisely which groups of people are particularly often affected by multi-dimensional poverty,” Merz explains. Single parents, for instance, have a comparatively low income. At the same time they are often so overburdened by work and parenting tasks that, according to the new definition, they fall disproportionally often under the poverty line. More than 19% were affected in 2001/2002. Families with many children are also at risk: of the couples with more than three children, 31,6 % fell under the poverty line.

Among the self-employed, the poverty rate was similarly high at 29.4%. This is due in large part to their long working hours. “Almost two-thirds of the respondents who are self-employed are “time-poor,” Merz explains. “They had 60% less free time available than the average survey respondent.”

And one more conclusion can be drawn from these data: the best prevention for multi-dimensional poverty is a good education. Of those surveyed with a bachelor degree only 9.4% were considered multi-dimensionally poor.

Merz, J. , & Rathjen, T. (2014). Multidimensional time and income poverty: Well-being gap and minimum 2DGAP poverty intensity - German evidence. Journal of Economic Inequality, 1-26; DOI: 10.1007/s10888-013-9271-6

Prof. Dr. Joachim Merz
Research Institute for Liberal Professions, Leuphana University of Lüneburg
Phone: 04131/677-2051
E-Mail: merz@uni.leuphana.de