Letters to the Editor Letters to the Editor

September 2, 1996

How much time do people really devote to shopping?

In his otherwise interesting article, "Time to Shop" (Summer 1996) on retailing in New England, John Campbell makes a number of questionable assertions and assumptions about shoppers' time.

Campbell states that "Shopping is now America's primary leisure activity." However, our research indicates that ALL shopping takes only five hours per week, the same as in 1965, and most of that is probably for groceries and other necessities -- not the discretionary hunting and gathering exercises Campbell describes. Even if we were to grant discretionary shopping two hours a week, that would leave visiting, home communication, hobbies, and reading consuming far more free time, at three to eight hours per week; leisure shopping would be on a par with adult education and sports/exercise.

Nor is shopping "primary" in terms of enjoyment. People rank grocery shopping at 5.5 on a ten-point enjoyment scale, with discretionary shopping rated at 6.6, compared to 7+ ratings for most other free-time activities, including television.

Campbell also describes how shopping mall developers have designed "time-saving" features into their facilities without verifying whether shoppers find these features either useful or important in their expeditions into the world of commerce. Then again, he may not be alone. No basic research appears to have been done to determine why people shop or what psychological and cultural benefits they derive from their daily forays into the marketplace -- despite retailing's obvious economic importance.

More precise time-use figures at the national level can be found in the American Demographics monograph, The Demographics of Time, and in our new book, Time for Life, published by Penn State Press (1997).

John P. Robinson, Director

Americans' Use of Time Project

University of Maryland

Charitable differences

Jane Katz's article "The Kindness of Neighbors" (Summer 1996) has dealt admirably with the complexities of the peculiarly American interrelationship of government and the nonprofit sector. We see a burgeoning "nonprofitization" of America today. Increasingly, governments have contracted with nonprofits to deliver a wide variety of social and human services. This has encouraged the development of nonprofit networks which have become, in effect, private service delivery arms of the government.

However, many smaller, community-based nonprofits cannot operate at the size that government contracts require. Usually it is the larger nonprofits that have the economies of scale, management structure, and financial capitalization to provide the necessary level of service. But larger groups may not be as entrepreneurial and responsive as those smaller and closer to their community constituents. And the standardization that is typical when providing services under a government contract is unlikely to generate new and more effective nonprofit models.

Thus it is important that private philanthropy continue to encourage research and evaluation of effective programs and fund social entrepreneurs, along with larger and established groups. A healthy mix of public and private groups and a diverse nonprofit sector is absolutely critical to nurture, counsel, heal, and educate our citizenry, and to assure the quality of our civic life.

Sally Peabody, President

Associated Grantmakers of Massachusetts

Employee-led representation

As the nature of work has become increasingly transient, jobholders are creating new representative structures that are in sync with this new workplace. Unlike Steven Sass's description of employer-created structures in "Across the Dialectic" (Summer 1996), these groups have been created by employees themselves, are independent and have responded quickly to employees' changing needs.

The new organizations typically take the form of professional associations and employee caucuses that cross company lines. For example, the Computer Game Developers Association provides employees in new media with model contracts, salary scale information, and skill development assistance. Employee caucuses that provide mentoring and support for women and minorities can be found within large companies, such as the Xerox Corporation. Older, more established associations, ranging from the American Medical Association to the American Bar Association to the Antique Dealers of America, provide similar types of education and support.

Professional associations and caucuses have experienced enormous growth over the past twenty years. As new "bundles of representative structures," they increasingly furnish needed benefits such as health insurance and skill development that employers used to routinely provide. While organized labor seeks to reverse its decline, this "shadow labor movement" continues to grow.

Sara Horowitz

Working Today

New York, New York