- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 5, 2000

Fifteen years from now, people will likely watch more soccer, buy more athletic shoes, visit more theme parks and develop a strong yen to eat Chinese food in China.

So says Graham T.T. Molitor, a Bethesda, Md., futurist who sees the leisure, entertainment and hospitality industries as the next big "economic wave" to engulf the world.

The ingredients for the rise of leisure are already here, he says, pointing to such global trends as shorter workweeks, more holidays, longer vacations, earlier retirement, longer life spans, faster transportation, smaller families and more labor-saving devices.

But not everybody sees a trend toward Leisure World. In a recent cover story on Americans being "world-class workaholics," U.S. News & World Report reported that the United States has surpassed frenetic Japan as the "longest-working" nation.

The number of U.S. workers who work 50-plus hours a week is now up to 37 percent from a decade ago, and the average workweek among salaried Americans is now 47 hours, the magazine said. The price of prosperity, the article concluded, was to work harder than ever.

Two professors who review "use-of-time" diaries by Americans, however, say that people significantly exaggerate how much time they spend working.

Leisure time is growing, not shrinking, researchers John P. Robinson and Geoffrey Godbey conclude in their 1999 edition of "Time for Life: The Surprising Way Americans Use Their Time."

Mr. Molitor, president of Public Policy Forecasting and author of an upcoming book, "The Next 1,000 Years," says that forces are converging that will allow people to spend as much as 50 percent of their lifetimes on entertainment, sports, travel and other leisure activities.

As a result, he says, leisure-oriented businesses will dominate the employment market by 2015 and account half of the U.S. gross national product.

Mr. Molitor specifically forecasts that:

* People will buy experiences, not things, thus heralding the "waning of materialism."

* Travel and tourism will boom, with China as the top-ranked tourist destination by 2020. Why? "Because it's big, cheap, interesting, with lots to see that hasn't been seen before," he says, tossing in a further prediction that China will be the world's largest economic power within 50 years.

* Playing and watching sports of all kinds, from chess to jet water skiing, will become more popular. The cost of tickets, however, will come down through technology a Broadway show opening will be telecast to millions for a $2 a head, he says. (This will be in addition, of course, to the big-bucks crowd who see it in the theater.)

* Elaborate indoor theme parks will appear to accommodate those who don't have the time or money to travel extensively. These theme parks will re-create nature some will offer manmade "beaches," sun and palm trees, while others will have artificial snow and "mountains" for skiing.

* Travel will become swifter and cars will drive themselves.

Some economic trends favor these predictions.

Americans alone spent $431 billion on recreation in 1996 53 percent more than in 1990, says the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. Spending has gone up this decade in dozens of leisure categories, including the purchase of toys, video products and sports equipment as well as tickets for amusement parks and music, theater and sports events.

The World Travel and Tourism Council says its industry already generates 200 million jobs and has a goal of adding 100 million more by 2009.

Tourism in the United States alone, it says, is currently worth $526 billion a year.

Other trends are moving, well, leisurely, at least in the United States.

U.S. workweeks have steadily declined, from an estimated 72 hours a week in the 1700s and 69.8 hours in 1859 to less than 40 hours a week now, says Mr. Molitor.

Unfortunately, the average workweek has been less than 40 hours since 1949, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), which keeps data on the average weekly hours of production workers.

In fact, the average workweek for these workers has been stuck around 34.5 hours since 1985, BLS data shows.

In comparison, 30-hour workweeks are not unheard of in several European countries.

Regarding holidays, the United States has occasionally added one Martin Luther King Day became a 10th federal holiday in 1986.

But at this rate, even Mr. Molitor concedes that it may take this country a few hundred years to catch up to nations like Japan, which has at least 15 national holidays, two of which were created as recently as 1997.

U.S. vacation allotments are also meager compared with other industrialized nations.

Workers in Finland, for instance, have 37.5 vacation days a year, compared with 12 vacation days for U.S. workers, writes Mr. Molitor. Other tallies show that workers in Belgium, Denmark, Germany, France, Sweden, England, the Netherlands and Italy often enjoy five weeks or more of vacation a year.

Despite these disparities, "there is no serious disagreement that free time is increasing" for Americans, says Mr. Godbey, professor of leisure studies at Penn State University.

According to time diaries, he says, Americans age 18 to 64, had less than 35 hours of "free time" a week in 1965.

By 1985, free time grew to 40 hours a week and has stayed fairly constant since then, Mr. Godbey says.

"We are simply doing less paid hours of work and we are doing less housework," which leaves more time for leisure activities, he adds.

If people don't feel they have free time, it may be because the most popular leisure activity is TV watching, he says. Americans spend 15 hours more than a third of their free time in front of a TV.

This national habit may be starting to shift, however.

"For the first time in 1995, we saw a little bit of the increase in free time not go to TV-watching," says Mr. Godbey.

"We don't see any end or slack-off in TV watching," he quickly adds. But between 1965 and 1985, "all gains in free time were plowed into more TV, and this time, we saw a little of the gain going to sport, socialization and outdoor activity. You know, real life."

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