The Wellbeing Benefits of Alleviating Time Poverty | Scientific Reports



Poverty entails more than a scarcity of material resources—it also involves a shortage of time. To examine the causal benefits of reducing time poverty, we conducted a longitudinal field experiment over six consecutive weeks in an urban slum in Kenya with a sample of working mothers, a population who is especially likely to experience severe time poverty. Participants received vouchers for services designed to reduce their burden of unpaid labor. We compared the effect of these vouchers against equivalently valued unconditional cash transfers (UCTs) and a neutral control condition. In contrast to our pre-registered hypotheses, a pre-registered Bayesian ANCOVA indicated that the time-saving, UCT, and control conditions led to similar increases in subjective well-being, reductions in perceived stress, and decreases in relationship conflict (Cohen’s d’s ranged from 0.25 to 0.85 during the treatment weeks and from 0.21 to 0.36 at the endline). Exploratory analyses revealed that the time-saving vouchers and UCTs produced these benefits through distinct psychological pathways. We conclude by discussing the implications of these results for economic development initiatives.

Poverty is associated with lower engagement in preventative health care (even when access is available)1,2, lower medication adherence3, increased spending on ‘temptation goods’4, reduced productivity at work5, and lower adoption of useful new technologies (e.g., agricultural innovations)6. These seemingly disparate behaviors may share a common feature: they may be driven, in part, by the fact that people living in material poverty also tend be ‘time poor.’ Indeed, poverty is not only a state of material constraints, it also involves temporal constraints. The current study explored whether time poverty reinforces barriers toward economic mobility and contributes to poverty traps.

Consistent with previous research7,8,9, we refer to individuals as ‘time poor’ when they engage in long hours of unpaid work and have no choice but to do so. Time poverty severely affects low-income women living in developing countries. A lack of basic household amenities requires poor women to spend far more time on household production tasks like cooking and cleaning as compared to their richer counterparts10. For example, women in Sub-Saharan Africa spend an average of 4.2 h on unpaid work each day11. These unpaid household activities can be conceptualized as a kind of tax that individuals, especially women, must pay before undertaking remunerated work. In this project, we propose that reducing time poverty, thereby lowering this personal ‘tax,’ will have direct benefits for subjective well-being, perceived stress, and relationship conflict, as well as indirect benefits for economic well-being.

Despite these potentially far-reaching consequences, there is little understanding of the psychological and economic consequences of the time poverty that often coincides with financial constraints. Traditional economic measurements of poverty often neglect the fact that households living below the poverty line face substantive time deficits (Hirway provides a comprehensive review12). Furthermore, aid programs tend to focus on material constraints. Billions of dollars of economic aid have been spent to provide monetary and non-monetary aid to people living in extreme poverty. The most common aid programs include food, livestock, and fertilizer, as well as services such as agricultural training, community health workers, and teachers13,14,15,16. We suggest that the effectiveness of these aid programs could be increased by considering recipients’ time costs, either by adjusting how aid is delivered or by creating programs directly aimed at reducing recipients’ temporal constraints (Khera provides related arguments17,18).

Full article is available at Scientific Reports.