When clocks are set forward, life satisfaction declines

Daylight savings time was introduced in 1916. In a speech honoring William Willet of proposing the idea of daylight savings time in the UK, Winston Churchill said that the effect of this measure has been to “enlarge the opportunities for the pursuit of health and happiness among the millions of people who live in this country.”

This came at a price, however, according to data on Germany from the Socio-Economic Panel and on the UK from Understanding Society (formerly the British Household Panel). Estimates by the study’s authors Daniel Kühnle and Christoph Wunder show that in both countries, respondents’ life satisfaction declines the week after the start of daylight savings time. The decline is especially pronounced among parents of young children. The second week after losing an hour to daylight savings, life satisfaction returns to its original levels. For Germany, this means that household income would have to rise by around 10 percent in the first week after the start of daylight savings to compensate for the estimated decline in satisfaction.

The authors explain the temporary decline in satisfaction not only through the physical adaptation to a new daily rhythm. “People experience it as a strain when they lose free time,” says one of the study’s authors, Daniel Kühnle. “This is especially true of parents, who have little time to themselves as it is.”

The researchers do not argue for eliminating daylight savings time, however. They suggest “making up” for the lost hour by giving people more freedom to decide how to allocate their time. “One possibility would be to make working hours more flexible the week when clocks are set forward,” says Daniel Kühnle.

For their representative study on Germany and the UK, Kühnle and Wunder used data on 29,653 male and female SOEP respondents from 1984 to 2004, and 8,950 Understanding Society respondents from 2009 to 2012. The study used data collected from respondents two weeks before and two weeks after the beginning and end of daylight savings time.

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