Young Australian males binged on video games during the pandemic while their female counterparts favoured surfing the Internet on mobile devices, according to a new Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) analysis of the way we spent our free time during the pandemic.

Fully 37 per cent of Gen Z males – those aged 15 to 24 during the first year of the pandemic – reported in the ABS Time Use Survey (TUS) that they played ‘digital games’ between November 2020 and July 2021, compared to just 7.5 per cent of Gen Z females.

Those females, by contrast, turned to the Internet and their devices in droves, with 51.8 per cent saying they spent leisure time on their phones – nearly twice the 30.9 per cent of young men who said the same.

Millennial males also enjoyed video games by a 3 to 1 margin compared to their female peers, who also reported Internet usage more in line with that of the males.

Interestingly, nearly twice the proportion of women in the interwar generation – those aged 75 or over – reported spending time on video games than their male peers, who were more interested in exercise, travel, and surfing the Internet.

The figures – a deep dive into a broader TUS data set that describes a broad range of lifestyle, employment, and other behaviour during the pandemic – highlight stark differences between the pastimes favoured by different genders and age groups.

The survey period began in November 2020 – just weeks after Victoria’s more than 100 days of lockdown had ended – and span eight months in which that state’s populace was subjected to three more lockdowns before both Sydneysiders and Victorians entered their long and final lockdowns.

“These restrictions likely affected free time and leisure activities in different ways,” the ABS said, noting that “changes in work-from-home options and reduced travel time may have changed the amount of free time available…. These impacts would have varied depending on each person’s circumstances.”

You do what you know

With many Australians unable to leave their homes for weeks on end, the TUS data offer a unique perspective on the ways Australians spend their time when competing priorities, such as socialising and working, are removed.

While Gen Z Australians spent 18.5 per cent of their days on recreation and leisure, Millennials allocated just 13 per cent of their time to leisure activities – around half the proportion of the day as interwar Australians.

The TUS highlights marked differences in areas such as watching TV and streaming video – popular with 95.5 per cent of interwar respondents and 86.4 per cent of Baby Boomers but far less common among younger Australians.

Higher viewership amongst Baby Boomers and interwar Australians suggests that pastimes are learned during the teenage years: interwar Australians were young when TV and colour TV were introduced, while just 72.5 per cent of Gen X respondents – who were teenagers when personal computers emerged as a new pastime in the 1980s – reported watching TV during the pandemic.

Similarly, just 67.9 per cent of Millennials – who came of age in a world that was rapidly embracing the Internet and all its distractions – said they spent the pandemic time watching TV or videos, while 63.4 per cent of Gen Z Australians took time to watch shows rather than scrolling the social media services on which they grew up.

Digital games were also popular during the pandemic, with the gender split strongest among Gen Z: 37 per cent of young men spent around 3½ hours per day playing video games, compared to just 7.5 per cent of young women.

Interestingly, this split reversed among Baby Boomers and interwar Australians – with more women over 55 reporting spending time on digital games than their male counterparts.

Interest in gaming was relatively low among Millennials and Gen X respondents, whose competing work and family commitments would have left little spare time for games.

However else they were spending their time, however, the three youngest generations all had better things to do than read – even, apparently, remote-learning students whose job is theoretically to study for much of the day.

Gen Z males spent the most time reading newspapers, books, magazines and e-books of any demographic, but they were few and far between: just 11.2 per cent of Gen Z respondents said they spent time reading during the pandemic – around a third of the percentage of Baby Boomers and less than a quarter of the 47.4 per cent of the ‘silent generation’ interwar respondents who said the same.

This phenomenon has been widely studied and dovetails with concerns that many students’ reading abilities suffered during the pandemic – leading governments to implement measures such as limits on Internet and gaming time, and banning phones in classrooms.