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Study reveals ‘drastic changes’ in daily routines during UK lockdowns

New research by Queen Mary University of London and the University of Cambridge, published in PLOS ONE, shows that some spent an extra hour a day on chores and childcare during lockdown, while others got an added daily hour of solo leisure time – and most of us reduced time spent on paid work by around half an hour a day.

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Working from home. Credit:
Working from home. Credit:

The new study of “time-use diaries” was kept by 766 UK citizens from across the social spectrum during three points in time: the last month of normality, the first lockdown, and the last lockdown in March of this year.   

The economists collected data that charted time spent on activities during both typical work and nonwork days to map changes to the rhythm of life for millions.

The study also found marked differences between genders, particularly parents of young children, and that increases in odd working hours and downtime spent alone were detrimental to wellbeing.

Dr Eileen Tipoe, one of the study’s authors from Queen Mary University of London, said: “It is no surprise that having to do more work outside of typical working hours meant that people were substantially unhappier during the third lockdown.

“And it was concerning to find that women, and especially those with young children, were disproportionately affected by lockdown – for example being less likely to be employed and the fact that only women spent more time cooking and cleaning.”

While previous studies have focused on the initial lockdown, this is one of the first to examine the effects of repeated COVID-19 containment measures on our lives and routines.

For those employed before and during lockdowns, people with at least one young child spent an average of 43 fewer minutes a day on their paid job in the first lockdown, and 32 fewer minutes in the third, compared to pre-pandemic. 

For those without young children it was an average decrease of 28 minutes and 22 minutes a day on paid work respectively.

Women with young children spent around an hour less on paid work a day than men and women without young children. This was mainly a reduction in time spent on actual work tasks rather than, for example, meetings.

Life with small children during this year’s lockdown meant an extra hour of housework a day over pre-pandemic levels. Mothers of young kids did 67 more minutes of housework a day than fathers. Only women saw an increase in cooking and cleaning.

The third lockdown also saw around 20 per cent of individuals spend more time working unusual hours (outside 0830-1730) compared to the pre-pandemic period, which reduced the reported enjoyment of their day overall.

Those earning £5k a month or more worked almost two extra hours a day than people earning less than £1k a month by the last lockdown. High earners also spent less time on subsistence activities during both lockdowns.

Overall, the third lockdown felt a bit more miserable than the first, according to the research.


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