Kōrero: Rhythms of daily life

Whārangi 3. Working-age adults

Ngā whakaahua me ngā rauemi katoa o tēnei kōrero

Paid work

In 2012, 64% of New Zealanders aged 15 to 65 were in paid employment, which shaped the rhythm of their daily lives. Dairy farmers got up early for milking, sometimes eating two breakfasts – a quick tea and toast before and another after seeing to the cows. Meat and horticultural workers had a seasonal routine, while many office workers worked a 40-hour week.

Differences between men and women

Gender and marital status shaped daily rhythms until the later 20th century: women, with or without children, usually stayed at home while men went out to work.

Routines among working men included going home for lunch (common until the Second World War), and joining the six o’clock swill at the pub for a drink after work (from 1917 to 1967). Weekends were spent on sport, catching up on household or garden work, and relaxing. Among women the week was shaped by household tasks. Monday, for example, was wash day, and some women continued the 19th-century pattern of ironing on Tuesday and baking on Friday. Some routines were shared – first Saturday night and then Friday night shopping (the latter a national ritual from 1945 to 1980) and Sunday outings were often enjoyed by the whole family.


Social life was fitted around work. In the early 20th century leisure activities and rest were crammed into Saturday afternoon and evening and Sunday. As the weekend expanded from one day to two in the 1930s, dances, movies and sport spread through Friday night, Saturday and Sunday.

Changing patterns of work

The number of women, including those with children, in the paid workforce went from 19.3% in 1901 to 47.5% in 2006. Differences in routine emerged between women with children and other adults in paid employment. Mothers tended to organise their working life around their children as far as possible, while men and women without children did not. Many women, particularly those with children, worked a ‘second shift’, getting home to housework and cooking.

In the 2000s the range of working hours had widened. In 2006, 19% of New Zealanders were working more than 50 hours a week, 40% had variable hours of work, 18% were doing shift work and about a quarter did some night work. These variations altered daily and weekly rhythms, disrupting socialising, sporting activity and family contact.

Pyjamas in public

In 2012 a brief media storm blew up around the adoption of pyjamas as daywear by some people, usually women. It was seen by some as upsetting the natural rhythm of daily life. Women in one-piece pyjama suits wandered through Wellington railway station; dressing gowns and pyjama pants were seen in Gisborne supermarkets; and even nightgowns were worn out and about. Public opinion was deeply divided – should it be allowed? If not, who was responsible for stopping it?


The daily rhythm of the unemployed – 7% of those aged 15 to 65 in 2012 – was sometimes given considerable political attention. A time-use survey carried out in 2009 and 2010 provided detail. Unemployed people spent an average of four hours a day on household tasks, child and family matters and community service.

Two hours a day were spent on socialising, about three and a half hours watching television and using the internet, and about an hour on sports and hobbies. Among the unemployed, 23% were in education or training, spending an average of just under five hours a day on this.

Voluntary work

Nearly a third of New Zealanders did voluntary work in 2010. In many cases this was a regular commitment, a part of the daily or, more usually, weekly routine.

Me pēnei te tohu i te whārangi:

Megan Cook, 'Rhythms of daily life - Working-age adults', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/mi/rhythms-of-daily-life/page-3 (accessed 21 June 2024)

He kōrero nā Megan Cook, i tāngia i te 5 Sep 2013