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 1 • 2:00 PM

Most People With Addiction Simply Grow Out of It. Why Is This Widely Denied?

The idea that addiction is typically a chronic, progressive disease that requires treatment is false, the evidence shows. Yet the “aging out” experience of the majority is ignored by treatment providers and journalists.


October 1 • 1:00 PM

Midlife Neuroticism Linked to Alzheimer’s Disease in Old Age

New research from Sweden suggests that the personality dimension is connected to who ultimately suffers from late-in-life dementia.



October 1 • 11:11 AM

The Creative Class Boondoggle in Downtown Las Vegas

On Tony Hsieh and the pseudoscience of “collisions.”


October 1 • 9:14 AM

Mysterious Resting State Networks Might Be What Allow Different Brain Therapies to Work

Deep brain stimulation and similar treatments target the hubs of larger resting-state networks in the brain, researchers find.


October 1 • 6:00 AM

Would You Like a Subscription With Your Coffee?

A new app hopes to unite local coffee shops while helping you find a cheap cup of good coffee.


October 1 • 4:00 AM

How to Plant a Library

Somewhere outside of Oslo, there are 1,000 newly planted spruce trees. One hundred years from now, if everything goes to plan, they’ll be published together as 100 pieces of art.



September 30 • 10:09 AM

Trust Is Waning, and Inequality May Be to Blame

Trust in others and confidence in institutions is declining, while economic inequality creeps up, a new study shows.


September 30 • 8:00 AM

The Psychology of Penmanship

Graphology: It’s all (probably) bunk.



September 30 • 6:00 AM

The Medium Is the Message, 50 Years Later

Five decades on, what can Marshall McLuhan’s Understanding Media tell us about today?


September 30 • 4:00 AM

Grad School’s Mental Health Problem

Navigating the emotional stress of doctoral programs in a down market.


September 29 • 1:21 PM

Conference Call: Free Will Conference


September 29 • 12:00 PM

How Copyright Law Protects Art From Criticism

A case for allowing the copyright on Gone With the Wind to expire.


September 29 • 10:00 AM

Should We Be Told Who Funds Political Attack Ads?

On the value of campaign finance disclosure.


September 29 • 8:00 AM

Searching for a Man Named Penis

A quest to track down a real Penis proves difficult.


September 29 • 6:00 AM

Why Do So Many People Watch HGTV?

The same reason so many people watch NCIS or Law and Order: It’s all a procedural.


September 29 • 4:00 AM

The Link Between Depression and Terrorism

A new study from the United Kingdom finds a connection between depression and radicalization.


September 26 • 4:00 PM

Fast Track to a Spill?

Oil pipeline projects across America are speeding forward without environmental review.


September 26 • 2:00 PM

Why Liberals Love the Disease Theory of Addiction, by a Liberal Who Hates It

The disease model is convenient to liberals because it spares them having to say negative things about poor communities. But this conception of addiction harms the very people we wish to help.


September 26 • 1:21 PM

Race, Trust, and Split-Second Judgments


September 26 • 9:47 AM

Dopamine Might Be Behind Impulsive Behavior

A monkey study suggests the brain chemical makes what’s new and different more attractive.


September 26 • 8:00 AM

A Letter Becomes a Book Becomes a Play

Sarah Ruhl’s Dear Elizabeth: A Play in Letters From Elizabeth Bishop to Robert Lowell and Back Again takes 900 pages of correspondence between the two poets and turns them into an on-stage performance.


September 26 • 7:00 AM

Sonic Hedgehog, DICER, and the Problem With Naming Genes

Wait, why is there a Pokemon gene?


Follow us


Mysterious Resting State Networks Might Be What Allow Different Brain Therapies to Work

Deep brain stimulation and similar treatments target the hubs of larger resting-state networks in the brain, researchers find.

Trust Is Waning, and Inequality May Be to Blame

Trust in others and confidence in institutions is declining, while economic inequality creeps up, a new study shows.

Dopamine Might Be Behind Impulsive Behavior

A monkey study suggests the brain chemical makes what's new and different more attractive.

School Counselors Do More Than You’d Think

Adding just one counselor to a school has an enormous impact on discipline and test scores, according to a new study.

How a Second Language Trains Your Brain for Math

Second languages strengthen the brain's executive control circuits, with benefits beyond words.

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.