Social institutions are the broadest organizers of individuals' beliefs, drives, and behaviors. Evolving to address the separate needs of society (e.g., the military institution out of the need for defense; the family out of the social needs for procreation, socialization, and intimacy), social institutions are free-standing social units with their own inner dynamics and rhythms. Like separate musical scores, each has its own melodies, harmonies, and rhythms. The more powerful a given institution is in any given society, the more likely its times influence everyday life. Many researchers (see, for instance, the Foundation For the Study of Cycles) have detected cyclical patterns of historical change in these chronosystems.

At the personal level, these institutions come to control the social rhythms of life in a process called entrainment. As described by Joseph McGrath and Janice Kelley in Time and Human Interaction: Toward a Social Psychology of Time (Guilford Press, 1986):

In biological study, the term "entrainment" means, roughly, that an endogenous body rhythm has been "captured," and modified in its periodicity and its phase, by an external cycle with a rhythm near to the one the body rhythm would have had (in its "natural" endogenous form) had it not been thus captured and modified. ...[T]he particular biological cycles most often used to exemplify entrainment are the circadian rhythms that become entrained to the day-night cycle of life on this planet...It is such temporal entrainment of social and organizational behavior--as distinct from the entrainment of physiological and psychological processes--that is of central concern within a social psychology of time (pp. 43,48).

So how do Americans really spend their time? See the U.S. Department of Labor's American Time Use Survey, which "measures the amount of time people spend doing various activities, such as paid work, childcare, volunteering, commuting, and socializing."


What is the meaning of family time? Unlike the past, it rarely is interwoven with work time as when families would together farm or operate some small family feed or grocery store. When we nowadays think of family time it is more in the realm of leisure time. And perhaps this intersection is what underlies many of the problems now besetting the institution.

The first institutional time system, or "chronosystem," that we're conditioned by is the family. It is here that we receive our first temporal socializations, specifically, learning how to synchronize one's biological processes with social timetables of others (the feeding schedule becomes the first social constraint). Later the child learns how different activities have their own temporal demands, and it is here that we can see how time is employed by institutions to demarcate their sphere of coordination and control.

Internationally, there are some interesting differences in the desire for more family time than one has. In their analysis of responses of over twenty thousand randomly selected workers from 27 in the late 1990s (data from the 1997 International Social Survey Programme), David Blanchflower and Andrew Oswald found the following percentages agreeing with the statement "I would like to be able to spend much more with my family": US 46%, France 41%, Philippines 40%, Portugal 39%, Israel (Jews) 37%, Great Britain 36%, Slovenia 34%, East Germany 34%, Czech Republic 33%, Sweden 32%, Russia 31%, Poland 30%, Norway 27%, Denmark 26%, Hungary 26%, West Germany 26%, Canada 26%, Cyprus 26%, New Zealand 26%, Israel (Arabs) 25%, Switzerland 23%, Italy 21%, Netherlands 18%, Bulgaria 14%, Japan 9%, Spain 8%, and Bangladesh 5%.


One strategy of sociologists is to take a life-cycle approach to family systems, following a couple from courtship and marriage through the death of one spouse. This approach sensitizes us to the various timetables of family life and how they have changed historically:


A 1987 survey (Kingston, Paul W., and Steven L. Nock. 1987. "Time Together Among Dual-Earner Couples." American Sociological Review 52:391-400) of wives from dual-earner couples say they and their husbands spend:

The same year on ABC's "20/20" (Oct. 30, 1987) the observation was made about how, without many role models outside of their generation, contemporary dual-career couples are receptive to the recipes and advice of numerous experts. There are self-help manuals, such as The Working Relationships--a work book employing many corporate planning techniques to running a marriage, recommending such activities as defining short-term and long-term goals in a personal relationship, staging annual summits that set aside 48 hours to concentrate on such subjects as love, home, and creating a "priority action plan." One problem, of course, is applying hard, rational, bureaucratic management principles to a relationship traditionally (at least for the past two or three generations) based on romantic and spontaneous ideas. But lives have become so busy, so hectic, that there is a need for structure and organization in order to even get by. And then add on top of this what is perhaps the most unpredictable, most spontaneous, most time-demanding, and least organizable of all social elements: young children.

Click here to see spousal differences in time spent in the household division of labor.

A major research tradition in spousal time involves the relationship between the length of marriage and the marital satisfactions of men and women. Things not working out? Nowadays, because of the destigmatization of divorce and the rise of no-fault divorce laws, people have more of an "out" (or at least more of a legal out--desertion rates were high in the past) than was the case. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, the following was the percentage of all divorces by duration of marriage in 1987:

< 1 YEAR 4%
1-4 YEARS 34%
5-9 YEARS 26%
10-19 YEARS 25%
20+ YEARS 12%


During the 1970s, the the midst of increasing female participations in the labor force, psychologists came up with the concept of "quality time". This philosophy behind this notion, allaying the guilt often experienced by working mothers, was that it is not the quantity but quality of time parents spend with their children that counts. It came to be thought that if enough special attention was given in a designated, structured amount of time--much like structured business time, where goals are set and then individuals strive to meet them--the amount of time between parents and children would have no bearing on the quality of bonding between them. Good thing. According to Penelope Leach, Benjamin Spock's successor in the best-selling "how-to" manual for child-raising, claims that the average time spent between parents and children has dropped 40 percent in the past twenty years (ABC newsmagazine, Aug. 18, 1994).

This type of time is difficult to schedule for it arises from spontaneity. "Just as parents can't dictate the terms for special moments with their children, they can't always predict when their children will most need them" (Parents, 1983). But children's time is on a schedule of its own and frequently doesn't mesh with that of their parents'. Thus, quality time occasionally is not achieved simply because children aren't conscious of the need for "quality time"--they don't realize that they are supposed to experience it.


I will always remember a sign that hung directly under the clock in one of my middle school classrooms: "Time Will Pass But Will You?" A haunting thought for the perpetual clock-watchers of the room.

Of the spectrum of social functions provided by education, one of the most central is its inculcation of social rhythms. It is here that the young child is first subjugated to the universalistic time demands of the broader society and comes to have his/her rhythms of the day, the week, and the year shaped by the obligatory student role. In the instance of homework assignments, as Wilbert E. Moore observed in Man, Time, and Society, "the school may extend its temporal control even beyond its physical boundaries and formally allotted hours, with consequent problems for the child and therefore for adults of temporal allocation among family, school, and play or peer-group activities" (1963:24).

The rhythms of this institution, as we will see, echo broadly across many facets of both self and society. At the personal level, they shape individuals' identities and sense of self- worth. At the social level, the time individuals spend in educational systems is used as a means for sorting and certifying them in terms of their adequacy for work roles: greater school time translates into a higher status level entry into the work world. Ironically, society has not kept pace in redesigning jobs to take advantage of its increasingly educated workforce, leading to over-education and underemployment, worker alienation, and boredom. From the social level, schools can also be understood as an abeyance mechanism, a holding pattern designed to keep the young out of an already crowded workforce.

For most American youngsters, school is the major source of lessons about bureaucratic time--lessons in that genre of social rhythms which, if observed, allow one to survive and thrive in American adult society. For the educational neophyte, the shift from the more spontaneous times of family life to the thoroughly structured times of school is a difficult transition indeed. Consider the following lessons:

Given the centrality of education to the institution of work and given several decades of declining standardized test scores, which are compared with international levels (in the mid-1980s, the United States ranked 49th in illiteracy out of 158 countries), it is not surprising that school times have become a matter of considerable political significance. According to a 1994 study by the National Education Commission on Time and Learning, American high school students spend only 41 percent of their school days on academic subjects and secondary school students spend only about three hours per day on core academics. In total, American students spend about 1,460 hours studying subjects like math, science and history during their four years in high school. Their Japanese, French and German counterparts spend 3,170, 3,280 and 3,528 hours, respectively.  According to the 2004 National Survey of Student Engagement, about how college undergraduates spend their time, students only spend half the time preparing for class as faculty expect.

In the state of Texas, this matter of the quantity of time devoted to academic matters in the public schools was to become the holy cause of several powerful individuals, most notably for businessman Ross Perot. In 1981, the 67th legislature passed House Bill 246, Section 21.101 of which specified that public school teachers be given precise times to devote to various subject matters. This was implemented in 1985 in Chapter 75 (of Title 19) of the Essential Elements of the Texas Legislative Code. Many educators were not happy with the breakdown, perceiving that language arts received the lion's share of time while the natural and social sciences were short changed. But even more significantly, one consequence was to be the segregation of subjects so as to ensure the teachers' new temporal accountabilities. Math, for instance, became divorced from science and social studies; connections between disciplinary endeavors were no longer being actively addressed because they could not be temporally measured. Such unintended developments were to be the seeds of the curricular plan's demise.


The school time gap, like the supposed "missile gap" of the 1960s, has become a favorite topic of media exposes. As of 1996, the average length of the school year in the United States is 180 days, compared to 186 days in Canada and 243 days in Japan. Internationally, Americans students are now perceived to be as temporally disadvantaged as were African-American students in Missippi in 1940, when their school year was but 124 days while that of whites was 160.

Given this self-imposed 180-day school year limit, coupled with increasingly crowded classrooms (guaranteeing greater variety in student learning rates within a class), complaints against the messages delivered and quality of teaching, and the exponential growth rate of knowledge, one can understand why American schools find themselves experimenting in chronoeducation in their race against time. With "block scheduling", classes have been lengthened, typically from 40 to 66 minutes. As the school day is no longer long enough to cover all subject matters, class schedules become "rotated" with students taking a given subject matter not only on different days of the week but different times of the day. Such shufflings are legitimated, in part, with the argument that given differences in the times when students are most alert and most receptive to certain types of knowledge (Is there a best time of day to take math? art? And how might schools accommodate students like those at this university, where four out of ten identify themselves as "evening people" and three out of ten as "night owls"?), the temporal playing field becomes leveled out.

In addition to these increasingly complex school times let's not forget the year-round schooling movement, backed by such proponents as San Diego's National Association for Year-Round Education. What does one do as a working parent with two children, one in elementary and the other in middle school, both on year-round academic calendars but different in their six-weeks-on/two- weeks-off cycle? Gone with this format is the academic rhythm of old (which was based on a 19th century agricultural-economic schedule), featuring the wonderful closure of a school year ending and the "clean slate" of a new school year beginning.

Well, if you managed your time correctly in primary and secondary school it could be college time. A new admissions strategy is to make an early application to one's first choice. The game goes thusly: one makes an early application to an institution and in exchange for the promise that one applies no where else one will be notified "early" about acceptance or rejection. By 1997, sizable proportions of the entering classes at the most selective schools were being so accepted: 50% at Harvard, 35% at Dartmouth, and 30% at the University of Virginia. One interesting consequence is that those who take advantage of the early admission process are more likely to be white and affluent. Those from minority and less financially secure families tend to apply later, desiring to compare financial aid packages, and thereby diminish their chances for admission as those from the early applicant pool fill the available slots (source: Ethan Bronner, "Early admission process alters colleges, to the regret of some,"New York Times, Dec. 26, 1997).


In Time Wars, Jeremy Rifkin writes:

In our educational system, a premium is placed on how fast we can recite an answer or solve a problem. Pondering, reflecting, and musing might well be encouraged in other cultures but play little or no role as modes of thought in the American educational system. Keeping up requires quick absorption of material and even faster recall. Children are taught to compete with the clock in classrooms across the country. Exams are cued to time deadlines and achievement is measured by how many answers can be completed in the time allotted. Our society is unwavering in its belief that intelligence and speed go together and that the bright child is always the fastest learner.


Visitors to a number of my websites are monitored.  I have found that regardless of subject matter--whether it be death, social psychology, social gerontology or time--the "hits" all have basically the same weekly pattern:

Tuesdays are always the peak days, after which begins the slide towards the weekend.  Wednesdays are comparable to Mondays, as are usually Sundays with Fridays.


All mankind is of one author, and is of one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated; God employs several translators; some pieces are translated by age, some by sickness, some by war, some by justice; but God's hand is in every translation, and his hand shall bind up all our scattered leaves again for that library where every book shall lie open to one another.

--John Donne, Devotions

Consider the variety of ways religion involves time. There are the escapes from daily routines during Holy Weeks or observances of the Sabbath, the Book of Hours of the Middle Ages, the religious rituals marking the various phases of one's biography (e.g., the baptismals following birth, the transitions into adulthood such as the bar mitzvahs, marriage ceremonies, and the funeralizations following death), the "born again" experiences engendered by religious faith, and the saints associated with each day of the Catholic calendar. The first historians were strongly religious individuals. The precision and reliability of our clocks stems from medieval monks' concerns with praying on time. A key temporal legacy of early Christianity to the West is a linear conception of time, from which such ideas as that of progress and evolution evolved. As Richard Morris (Time's Arrows: Scientific Attitudes Toward Time, 1985:11) pointed out:

The early Christian writers stressed the importance of individual historical events that would not be repeated. History, they said, did not move in cycles. On the contrary, there had been a Creation at a particular point in time. Christ had died on the Cross but once, and had been resurrected from the dead on but one occasion. Finally, at some point in the future, God's plan would be completed, and He would--once and for all- -bring the world to an end.

And then, of course, there's our squirreliness over the millennium.


Glenn Gunhouse's `A Hypertext Book of Hours' Religious time is set up against profane time, time as wear-and-tear, time as decay, time as death. The time frame of ultimate existence and of moral truths must be of a different realm, and this is the sacred. Not only does this supramundane orientation to time make death a transition instead of an ending, but allows religions to conceptualize and integrate the net sum of human activity. Our separate endeavors, as well as those of our ancestors and successors, are but unrelated discrete events, much like the separate notes of music, unless there's some overarching frame of reference to integrate them into some harmonic whole. Part of the religion's role is to give this broader temporal perspective to everyday life, to provide the sense of coherency and comprehensibility to both personal and social experiences, and to place generations now alive in context of those dead and those yet to be born.

One way humans have attempted to participate in this sacred time is by replicating the activities of one's ancestors. What is sacred is the order that links our activities with an overarching meaning. Sacred time is the collapse of the past and future into an eternal now so that the heroics of our ancestors and our descendants are forever part of the present (as opposed to profane time, which is time as decay or entropy). To accurately repeat the rituals of one's ancestors, as in a traditional ceremonial dance, is to participate in sacred time. In this sense, the expeditions of Thor Heyerdohl and the duplication of the voyages of the Godspeed (the ship carrying tradesmen and farmers to Jamestown in 1607) and the Mayflower, while supposedly being scientific and historical enterprises, are -in fact- religious rituals. In addition to religious ritual, religious artifacts also play a role in this connecting of the generations. To further achieve this sense of continuity (the experience Alex Halley captured in Roots), Catholics often pass down through generations of family members such things as baptismal robes, confirmation veils and coffin crucifixes, while Jews pass down the Talit, Tefillin, Kiddush Cup and Menorah. The family Bible is not only passed on, but is often the place where family genealogical records are maintained.

To even establish such intergenerational continuities requires that the identities of the dead be remembered. And, again, religion has been a major institution source of such recollections. The Jews, for instance, have the Chevra Kevod Hamet (Society to Honor the Dead). Churches maintain records of their baptisms, marriages and funerals. But it is the Mormon church which has perhaps gone to the greatest lengths in this country to preserve the memories of the deceased. Believing that you must "seek after your dead" to insure a reunion with them in the Celestial Kingdom, not only must your own dead be recalled, but (since no human can be less closely related to any other human than approximately fiftieth cousin) those of everyone else as well. The Genealogical Society of Utah houses this "family of men."

Timeline: Origin of Major Religions
The Rule of Benedict temporal discipline at the Order of St. Benedict's
Ecclesiastical Calendar: Enter a Year...
Easter in Cyberspace: A Christian Perspective
Ignatius Donnelly and the End of the World
Current Events and End Times Prophecy
End Times Prophecy
A Brief History of the Apocalypse: 2800 B.C.-Now
Number of seconds till Millenium-2001
Kearl's investigations into Americans' faith in an afterlife

In the West, matters of science and religion are typically understood to be of two separate domains, one of the material world and the other of the immaterial. For an interesting attempt to fuse the temporalities of these two domains (and thereby reveal commonalities between Darwinism and creationism), see Dr. David Bryson's Anthropic Timetable, wherein the history of the universe is analyzed in terms of centuries taken to various powers: century5=birth of universe, century4=mid- Cretaceous, century3=human exodus from Africa, etc.


"Remember that time is money."
--Benjamin Franklin

"For a businessman, time is money, but for an academic or artist, money is time."
--Lawrence Rosen

If you want work well done, select a busy man -- the other kind has not time.
--Elbert Hubbard

As can be gathered from the TimeWork Resources Page, of all institutions it may well be work times that have the most pervasive influence on cultural time systems. At a macro level, economic cycles are thoroughly interwoven with demographic and political cycles. At the individual level, since work provides the archetype of reality (with all other provinces of meaning being but modifications), work time has come to predominantly shape both biographical time and one's everyday timetables.  To read one of the classics on time and work, see E. P. Thompson's "Time, Work-Discipline, and Industrial Capitalism"

Beginning in the 1960s appeared a new international box score, this one supposedly gauging the industriousness of a people: annual average hours spent on the job.  The Japanese, with their 6-day workweek, were the world champs, and their numerous hours at the workplace coincided with the country's growing trade surplus.  American news agencies carried stories of Japanese workaholics shunning vacations.  In 1960, the Japanese worker was logging 2,432 hours a year.  Their hours decreased with growing prosperity, attempts of the Labor Ministry to get the populace to relax, and a new generation of workers--the shinjinrui--born in affluence and less enamored with total dedication to the company.  In 1988, the Japanese worked an average of 2,111 hours; in 1994, 1.904 hours; in 2000, 1878 hours.

Like the "missile gap" and other perceived shortcomings in international competitions, the United States accepted the time wars challenge.  By 1989, according to the Economic Policy Institute,  American workers were putting in 138 hours more on the job than they did in 1969.  While European workers were enjoying five weeks of paid vacation, their American counterparts had but 16.1 days.  In 2001 came news from the U.N. International Labor Organization (Key Indicators of the Labor Market 2000-2002) that Americans were working 36 hours more, almost a full workweek, than they were in 1990.  They were now closing in on the Republic of Korea and the Czech Republic for the international hour championship, working 100 hours (or 2-1/2 weeks) more than their Japanese counterparts, 250 hours more than British workers, and 500 hours (or 12-1/2 weeks) more than German workers.

Other work time topics: