Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


Go Outside

sunday

Once upon a time, this could have been your Sunday. Now, you are chained to your computer or something. (Photo: geoftheref/Flickr)

Are Sundays Dying?

• May 08, 2014 • 9:35 AM

Once upon a time, this could have been your Sunday. Now, you are chained to your computer or something. (Photo: geoftheref/Flickr)

Probably. And no one, at least no Canadian, seems to care.

A battle against leisure is unfolding. In America, it’s a war that has been raging since the Puritan age.

Though recently American leisure time has appeared to rise, the averages are skewed by undereducated and lower-income men, who are likely “unemployed or underemployed,” as the Washington Post has noted. Work-life balances are abominable when compared to other developed countries. And the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the “average American” is actually working “one month” more a year than he or she was in 1976.

But Sunday, the weekend day that even Puritans blocked off for worship and rest (a Puritan poet once pondered “over whether closing a stable door that was blowing in the wind constituted an act of work which would profane the Sabbath”), is also beginning to look more and more like just another day of the work week.

It seems that even the sacrosanct tradition of once-a-week existential dread, the anxious pulse that some have called the “Sunday blues,” has recently receded amid the constant onslaught of email, dynamic I-choose-for-myself-which-seven-hours-of-programming-to-watch television, and encroaching publishing schedules, as John Herrman recently noted in The Awl.

Will Sundays, as we’ve known them, soon simply disappear? Evidence from Canada suggests that this full-scale erosion is already further along than we may think. Behaviorally, at least, the data support the theory that Sundays, once Western civilization’s weekly beacons of idleness, are becoming ever-more harried. Given the trend lines, it’s pretty safe to assume some form of the same phenomenon is occurring in the United States.

In the latest issue of Time & Society, University of Waterloo leisure studies professor Jiri Zuzanek compared behavioral and emotional data (from national surveys and smaller ones carried out by his own team) about Sundays collected in the mid-1980s to that of the mid-2000s. Here are some of the disturbing results:

[I]n 2005 adult Canadians spent 67% more time on Sundays working for pay than they did in 1981 – 106 minutes compared to 63 minutes. Time spent working around the house, caring for children and shopping increased on Sundays from 2.9 hours in 1981 to 4.0 hours in 2005. Of domestic obligations, shopping expanded the most – from less than 10 minutes in 1981 to 43 minutes in 2005. House upkeep rose from 48 minutes to 73 minutes, and errands from 16 minutes to 38 minutes. …

In 1985, 68% respondents felt free to do what they were doing on Sundays. In 2003, the corresponding figure was 58%. The number of Sunday episodes when respondents felt that they ‘had to do’ what they were doing grew from 18% in 1985 to 22% in 2003.

All the bad categories added time, and all the enjoyable ones lost.

Screen shot 2014-05-06 at 5.43.36 PM(Chart: Time & Society)

As the chart above illustrates, the gains in convenience, from retail store hour expansions, for example, don’t appear to be making weekdays all that much easier either.

This radical Sunday transformation may have significant philosophical implications. Emile Durkheim, according to Zuzanek, believed that the distinction between weekends and weekdays was a significant one. It allows us to separate the “ordinary and the extraordinary, the sacred and the profane.” Or, in other words, it’s difficult to tolerate the dreary stream of TPS reports, tchotchkes, and general malaise without anticipation of any keg parties, computer smashing, money laundering, or whatever other dark weekend occupation you deem appropriate. As Zuzanek notes, Russian sociologist Pitirim Sorokin advanced Durkheim’s work further: “If there were neither the names of the days nor the weeks, we would be liable to be lost in an endless series of days – as grey as fog – and confuse one day with another.” How do we know what to do when it’s all the same? We could soon be witnessing a rip in the fibers of the “socio-cultural” time space continuum.

The most disturbing thing about this weekday behavioral encroachment is that it hasn’t precipitated a drastic change in the “emotional texture” (or the way you “feel” about a day) of Sundays. Canadians, at least, seem happy to embrace the rapidly declining status quo:

Respondents surveyed in 2003 continued to enjoy Sundays at a level not very different from 1985. Behaviourally, Sundays are today more constrained and more like the rest of the week, but we do not seem to mind. Survey research has shown that, generally, people tend to enjoy the things they are doing. To make the best of one’s life is natural. In a way, this serves as a self-defence mechanism. Life becomes miserable when we continuously dislike what we are doing. Economic analyses suggest that the net gainers of shopping and service deregulation were large retail chains, but the removal of shopping restrictions on Sunday met with popular support in most countries.

How can we stop the weekday from swallowing Sunday without even recognizing that it’s taking a bite? This failure of perception is perhaps a nuanced symbol that we are entering a new epoch. We are edging ever closer to a machine-tethered, work-chained, gruel-fed world governed by corporate automatons. In fact, the depressing implication of Zuzanek’s study, which didn’t even account for the more recent market saturation of smartphones, is that we may have already arrived. “Perhaps not only the days of the week became ‘grey,’ but so did we,” he concludes.

Ryan Jacobs
Associate Digital Editor Ryan Jacobs joined Pacific Standard from The Atlantic, where he wrote for and produced the magazine’s Global and China channels online. Before that, he was a senior editorial fellow at Mother Jones. Follow him on Twitter @Ryanj899.

More From Ryan Jacobs

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

October 24 • 4:00 PM

We Need to Normalize Drug Use in Our Society

After the disastrous misconceptions of the 20th century, we’re returning to the idea that drugs are an ordinary part of life experience and no more cause addiction than do other behaviors. This is rational and welcome.


October 24 • 2:00 PM

A Letter to the Next Attorney General: Fix Presidential Pardons

More than two years ago, a series showed that white applicants were far more likely to receive clemency than comparable applicants who were black. Since then, the government has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on a study, but the pardons system remains unchanged.


October 24 • 12:00 PM

What Makes You So Smart, Middle School Math Teacher?

Noah Davis talks to Vern Williams about what makes middle school—yes, middle school—so great.


October 24 • 10:00 AM

Why DNA Is One of Humanity’s Greatest Inventions

How we’ve co-opted our genetic material to change our world.


October 24 • 8:00 AM

What Do Clowns Think of Clowns?

Three major players weigh in on the current state of the clown.


October 24 • 7:13 AM

There Is No Surge in Illegal Immigration

The overall rate of illegal immigration has actually decreased significantly in the last 10 years. The time is ripe for immigration reform.


October 24 • 6:15 AM

Politicians Really Aren’t Better Decision Makers

Politicians took part in a classic choice experiment but failed to do better than the rest of us.


October 24 • 5:00 AM

Why We Gossip: It’s Really All About Ourselves

New research from the Netherlands finds stories we hear about others help us determine how we’re doing.


October 24 • 2:00 AM

Congratulations, Your City Is Dying!

Don’t take population numbers at face value.


October 23 • 4:00 PM

Of Course Marijuana Addiction Exists

The polarized legalization debate leads to exaggerated claims and denials about pot’s potential harms. The truth lies somewhere in between.


October 23 • 2:00 PM

American Companies Are Getting Way Too Cozy With the National Security Agency

Newly released documents describe “contractual relationships” between the NSA and U.S. companies, as well as undercover operatives.


October 23 • 12:00 PM

The Man Who’s Quantifying New York City

Noah Davis talks to the proprietor of I Quant NY. His methodology: a little something called “addition.”


October 23 • 11:02 AM

Earliest High-Altitude Settlements Found in Peru

Discovery suggests humans adapted to high altitude faster than previously thought.


October 23 • 10:00 AM

The Psychology of Bribery and Corruption

An FBI agent offered up confidential information about a political operative’s enemy in exchange for cash—and they both got caught. What were they thinking?


October 23 • 8:00 AM

Ebola News Gives Me a Guilty Thrill. Am I Crazy?

What it means to feel a little excited about the prospect of a horrific event.


October 23 • 7:04 AM

Why Don’t Men Read Romance Novels?

A lot of men just don’t read fiction, and if they do, structural misogyny drives them away from the genre.


October 23 • 6:00 AM

Why Do Americans Pray?

It depends on how you ask.


October 23 • 4:00 AM

Musicians Are Better Multitaskers

New research from Canada finds trained musicians more efficiently switch from one mental task to another.


October 22 • 4:00 PM

The Last Thing the Women’s Movement Needs Is a Heroic Male Takeover

Is the United Nations’ #HeForShe campaign helping feminism?


October 22 • 2:00 PM

Turning Public Education Into Private Profits

Baker Mitchell is a politically connected North Carolina businessman who celebrates the power of the free market. Every year, millions of public education dollars flow through Mitchell’s chain of four non-profit charter schools to for-profit companies he controls.


October 22 • 12:00 PM

Will the End of a Tax Loophole Kill Off Irish Business and Force Google and Apple to Pay Up?

U.S. technology giants have constructed international offices in Dublin in order to take advantage of favorable tax policies that are now changing. But Ireland might have enough other draws to keep them there even when costs climb.


October 22 • 10:00 AM

Veterans in the Ivory Tower

Why there aren’t enough veterans at America’s top schools—and what some people are trying to do to change that.


October 22 • 8:00 AM

Our Language Prejudices Don’t Make No Sense

We should embrace the fact that there’s no single recipe for English. Making fun of people for replacing “ask” with “aks,” or for frequently using double negatives just makes you look like the unsophisticated one.


October 22 • 7:04 AM

My Politicians Are Better Looking Than Yours

A new study finds we judge the cover by the book—or at least the party.


October 22 • 6:00 AM

How We Form Our Routines

Whether it’s a morning cup of coffee or a glass of warm milk before bed, we all have our habitual processions. The way they become engrained, though, varies from person to person.


Follow us


Politicians Really Aren’t Better Decision Makers

Politicians took part in a classic choice experiment but failed to do better than the rest of us.

Earliest High-Altitude Settlements Found in Peru

Discovery suggests humans adapted to high altitude faster than previously thought.

My Politicians Are Better Looking Than Yours

A new study finds we judge the cover by the book—or at least the party.

That Cigarette Would Make a Great Water Filter

Clean out the ashtray, add some aluminum oxide, and you've (almost) got yourself a low-cost way to remove arsenic from drinking water.

Love and Hate in Israel and Palestine

Psychologists find that parties to a conflict think they're motivated by love while their enemies are motivated by hate.

The Big One

One company, Amazon, controls 67 percent of the e-book market in the United States—down from 90 percent five years ago. September/October 2014 new-big-one-5

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.