Reading for pleasure is a long-standing recreational activity. After school became compulsory in 1877 many more New Zealanders gained literacy. The opening of public libraries in the 19th century made spare time, and some money, the secondary requirement.
Though reading is popular with both women and men, surveys suggest women read much more. A 1979 survey found that 35% of males had read for pleasure more than once or twice over the past year, and this was the second-most popular leisure activity after gardening. However, 53% of women read for pleasure.
A 2012 survey found that 23% of men and 8% of women had read no books in the past year. Men preferred newspapers to books, and women books to newspapers.
Statistics New Zealand’s Time Use Surveys have recorded a much smaller gender gap, though this may be because the definition of reading is broader. In 1998/99 men spent 23 minutes each day reading and women spent 25 minutes. By 2009/10 habits had diverged a little – women spent 29 minutes each day reading and men 23 minutes.
Criminal couch potatoes
A 2013 study by University of Otago researchers using data from the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study found an association between television viewing during childhood and adult criminality. The risk of having a conviction by early adulthood increased by about 30% for each hour of television a child watched on an average weeknight. While other factors also contributed to criminal behaviour, the researchers said that restricting exposure to television could help reduce antisocial behaviour in later life.
Radio and television
Radio broadcasts started in the 1920s and coverage was almost nationwide by the end of the decade. At first listeners were treated to exclusively musical broadcasts, but these were soon joined by news bulletins, weather reports and sports coverage.
The radio occupied a prominent place in the New Zealand household. Housewives had it on while doing chores and families listened together in the evenings. By the 1950s, 75% of households had a radio, but a new form of communication just around the corner was to oust the radio from its central position in New Zealand living rooms.
Television broadcasting started in 1960 and watching it became the nation’s foremost recreational activity. It was by far the most prolonged free-time activity recorded by Time Use Surveys. New Zealanders aged 12 and over spent two hours and two minutes each day watching TV in 1998/99 and two hours and eight minutes in 2009/10. This compared to just seven to eight minutes listening to music or the radio.
Spending time on the internet can cause relationship problems. In 2012 one-quarter of people polled in a survey felt guilty about the amount of time spent online, and 10% said their relationships were negatively affected.
Internet use took off in the late 1990s to become a firmly established domestic recreational activity. In 2011, 96% of internet users accessed it from home. Of these users 18% were online for at least 20 hours each week, 63% for at least 5 hours and the remainder for under 5 hours. Additionally 58% thought the internet was important or very important in their daily lives. The internet has become a more popular source of information than television or radio, but television and radio are still used more often for entertainment.
People started playing electronic games at home on computers and consoles in the early 1980s. The early games were aimed at children and teenagers, but gaming has since become an adult pursuit as well. By 2012 the average New Zealand gamer was 33 years old. Gamers played between half an hour and one hour at a time and most played every other day, rather than daily.