Menus Subscribe Search

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

September 22 • 12:00 PM

Freaking Out About Outliers: When the Polls Are Way Off

The idea of such a small number of people being used to predict how millions will vote sometimes irks observers, but it’s actually a very reliable process—most of the time.


September 22 • 10:00 AM

The Imagined Sex Worker

The stigma against black sex workers can reinforce stigmas against all black women and all sex workers.


September 22 • 9:54 AM

All-Girls Schools Don’t Make Girls More Competitive

Parents, not educational setting, may be the key.


September 22 • 8:00 AM

The NFL, the Military, and the Problem With Masculine Institutions

Both the NFL and the U.S. military cultivate and reward a form of hyper-violent masculinity. The consequences of doing so have never been more obvious.


September 22 • 6:00 AM

Zombies in the Quad: The Trouble With Elite Education

William Deresiewicz’s new book, Excellent Sheep, is in part, he says, a letter to his younger, more privileged self.


September 22 • 4:02 AM

You’re Going to Die! So Buy Now!

New research finds inserting reminders of our mortality into advertisements is a surprisingly effective strategy to sell products.



September 19 • 4:00 PM

In Your Own Words: What It’s Like to Get Sued Over Past Debts

Some describe their surprise when they were sued after falling behind on medical and credit card bills.



September 19 • 1:26 PM

For Charitable Products, Sex Doesn’t Sell

Sexy women may turn heads, but for pro-social and charitable products, they won’t change minds.


September 19 • 12:00 PM

Carbon Taxes Really Do Work

A new study shows that taxing carbon dioxide emissions could actually work to reduce greenhouse gases without any negative effects on employment and revenues.


September 19 • 10:00 AM

Why the Poor Remain Poor

A follow-up to “How Being Poor Makes You Poor.”


September 19 • 9:03 AM

Why Science Won’t Defeat Ebola

While science will certainly help, winning the battle against Ebola is a social challenge.


September 19 • 8:00 AM

Burrito Treason in the Lone Star State

Did Meatless Mondays bring down Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples?


September 19 • 7:31 AM

Savor Good Times, Get Through the Bad Ones—With Categories

Ticking off a category of things to do can feel like progress or a fun time coming to an end.


September 19 • 6:00 AM

The Most Untouchable Man in Sports

How the head of the governing body for the world’s most popular sport freely wields his wildly incompetent power.


September 19 • 4:00 AM

The Danger of Dining With an Overweight Companion

There’s a good chance you’ll eat more unhealthy food.



September 18 • 4:00 PM

Racial Disparity in Imprisonment Inspires White People to Be Even More Tough on Crime

White Americans are more comfortable with punitive and harsh policing and sentencing when they imagine that the people being policed and put in prison are black.



September 18 • 2:00 PM

The Wages of Millions Are Being Seized to Pay Past Debts

A new study provides the first-ever tally of how many employees lose up to a quarter of their paychecks over debts like unpaid credit card or medical bills and student loans.


September 18 • 12:00 PM

When Counterfeit and Contaminated Drugs Are Deadly

The cost and the crackdown, worldwide.


September 18 • 10:00 AM

How Do You Make a Living, Molly Crabapple?

Noah Davis talks to Molly Crapabble about Michelangelo, the Medicis, and the tension between making art and making money.


September 18 • 9:00 AM

Um, Why Are These Professors Creeping on My Facebook Page?

The ethics of student-teacher “intimacy”—on campus and on social media.


September 18 • 8:00 AM

Welcome to the Economy Economy

With the recent introduction of Apple Pay, the Silicon Valley giant is promising to remake how we interact with money. Could iCoin be next?


Follow us


All-Girls Schools Don’t Make Girls More Competitive

Parents, not educational setting, may be the key.

For Charitable Products, Sex Doesn’t Sell

Sexy women may turn heads, but for pro-social and charitable products, they won't change minds.

Carbon Taxes Really Do Work

A new study shows that taxing carbon dioxide emissions could actually work to reduce greenhouse gases without any negative effects on employment and revenues.

Savor Good Times, Get Through the Bad Ones—With Categories

Ticking off a category of things to do can feel like progress or a fun time coming to an end.

How to Build a Better Election

Elimination-style voting is harder to fiddle with than majority rule.

The Big One

One in three tourists to Jamaica reports getting harassed; half of them are hassled to buy drugs. September/October 2014 new-big-one-4

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