Britons split over the non-stop society.

Sep 14 2004 by Brian Amble Print This Article

If you thought that Britain's 'open all hours' society has gone far enough, think again.

By the year 2020 a quarter of Britain's population (over 13 million people) will be operating in a 'twenty-four-seven' culture, and that means that many more people could find themselves working round the clock.

Research carried out by the Future Foundation for credit card provider MINT argue that the inexorable increase in 24/7 culture is being driven by the rising affluence and disposable income of those in higher earnings brackets who want to enjoy the fruits of their labour.

Some 7 million people in Britain – one in seven adults - are economically active between the hours of 6pm and 9am today, the report says.

But more than a third of people with a household income of £46,000 or more take part in consumer activities (such as eating out, shopping, socialising, and household management i.e. banking) during the hours of 6pm – 9am compared to one in five of those earning £10,430 or less.

The study found that this out-of-hours activity is not as a result of longer working hours (which have actually declined slightly in recent years) but is a consequence of the fact that we are trying to cram more activities into our leisure time.

The knock on effect of this 24/7 experience economy on service sectors and leisure providers is enormous as more people demand instant access to financial services and electronic payment methods out of hours.

In turn the people working in the sectors that service the needs of customers in the evening and night become prime 24/7 consumers themselves, thus creating a virtuous circle between drivers and increased demand.

The 24/7 Backlash

At the heart of 24/7 living lies a dichotomy. There are only 24 hours in a day and seven days in a week. The reality of wanting to do more things and having more choices and the feeling of stress about more, and more complex, decision-making inevitably increases the perception of time pressure.

But while younger age groups are more inclined to be positive about 24/7 culture, with half of people aged 25-34 liking the idea of living in city that never sleeps, there is also evidence of a growing backlash against the non-stop society.

Almost six out of ten of those questioned believe that it is destructive to family life and nearly two thirds would like to live life at a slower pace.

Perhaps not surprisingly it women are less positive than men and less likely to be interested in using services out of hours because they are more likely to work part-time in order to balance work with caring responsibilities.

With three quarters of people (35 million) believing life has got more time pressured and hectic than before and an increasing number of people looking to downshift by moving out of towns and cities, the report argues that the backlash is already gaining strength.

Other manifestations of the rejection of 24/7 living it highlights include the invention of 'slow-coaches' – individuals who help people to slow down - the launch of the slow-food movement and a rejection of the ‘go-faster’ business culture that was prevalent during the height of the boom.

Saying one thing, doing another

But if many people seem concerned about the effect that 24/7 living will have on their lifestyles, they seem less concerned where it benefits them personally. For example, two thirds of people think that supermarket’s opening 24 hours a day is a positive trend – indeed the study suggests that fully 15 per cent of our shopping takes place during the hours of 6pm through to 9am.

If the average amount spent on a shopping trip is equal throughout the day, this would be equivalent to a total spend of £32 billion, a staggering amount considering they only started to open for 24 hours a day during the mid nineteen-nineties and internet shopping has only been mainstream for around 5 years.

Perhaps not surprisingly the most popular out of hours consumption related activity as a proportion of ‘whole day’ activity is eating out – 69 per cent of this activity takes place between the hours of 6pm-9am, followed by household management (44 per cent) and then social activity (38 per cent).

A small but striking proportion of household management also takes place between the hours of 4 and 9 in the morning which includes dealing with financial services providers – in fact research shows that these call centres often experience a high volume of calls early in the morning.

Charlotte Cornish at the Future Foundation said: "It’s amazing how quickly our lives have changed over the past decade with increasingly less differentiation between night and day and weekday and weekend.

"The old 9-5 culture is being broken down by the effects of globalisation, an instant access service culture and the proliferation of the internet. As an emerging trend, 24/7 still seems to be a non-stop, frenetic culture."