News > Some Good, Some Bad News for Leisure and Culture in Canada, According to Wellbeing Index

Some Good, Some Bad News for Leisure and Culture in Canada, According to Wellbeing Index

November 22, 2016 – Canadian’s quality of life lags economic growth, according to the latest Canadian Index of Wellbeing report. The report also finds that the Leisure and Culture domain has seen the most dramatic decline since 1994. There are nonetheless a few positive signs.

Trends in Leisure and Culture, the CIW and GDP from 1994 to 2014: GDP +38.0%; CIW +9.9%; Leisure and Culture -9.3%The Canadian Index of Wellbeing is Canada’s leading attempt at providing an alternative measure of development to economic growth. It’s a resource we should all be proud of and should be promoting, even though the picture it portrays isn’t quite rosy.

“Leisure in Culture” is one of eight domains in the Canadian Index of Wellbeing; and it’s the one that has seen the most dramatic decline since 1994 — six of the eight indicators of leisure and cultural engagement are worse now.

The Rather Good News

Post-recession, Canadians are returning to the performing arts. Average attendance per performance fluctuated slightly in the early 2000s, then peaked in 2006 showing a 6.7% increase over 1998 levels. Between 2006 and 2012, and especially since the 2008 recession, attendance has plummeted, dropping by 22.9%. Up to 2014, attendance to the performing arts had begun to recover, but still remains below 2006 levels.

More on performing arts attendance

Volunteering is generally down for recreation but on the upward curve for culture. The CIW reports that time spent volunteering for culture and recreation dropped by 29.5% between 1998 and 2013. This statistic is driven mainly by sport and recreation volunteering, which represent a disproportionate number of hours compared to arts and culture. However, if you isolate arts and culture, volunteering has been on the rise since 2007, reaching a peak of 107 million hours in 2013 (as reported by Hill Strategies).

More on volunteering

The Not So Good News

Arts and culture participation now represents less than 4% of Canadians’ time. Time spent engaged in arts and culture activities dropped every year from 1994 to 2005. On average, Canadians are spending about one hour less each month engaged in the arts. Since 2005, participation has remained comparatively stable. Other data points suggest that the number of Canadians participating in arts and culture is on the rise, but the depth of their participation is on the decline (see CAPACOA’s analysis). This lack of time is even more deeply felt for social activities, and the time crunch affects primarily women.

More on time spent on arts and culture activities

More on time crunch

Canadians are spending 15% less on culture and recreation. Regardless of whether household income went up or down over the years, the percentage of that total income devoted to culture and recreation remained at approximately 5% to 6% from 1997 to 2008. Following the recession, that percentage fell every year to 4.8% by 2014 — the first time it has been below 5% over the entire 21-year period. While a drop of just under 1% in expenditures for culture and recreation activities appears small, it represents an average decline of almost $6,000 of total household expenditures over that period. Canadians are spending substantially less of their incomes on culture and recreation, down 15.1% from 1994 levels, the bulk of which has occurred in the years since the recession. The CIW’s analysis however doesn’t take into account recent displacements from leisure expenses to communication expenses: Canadians are accessing more and more content over the internet and communication expenses have seen a significant increase since 2010 (see CAPACOA’s analysis of recreation expenses)

More on culture and recreation expenses

More on recreation vs. communication expense


The entire Canadian Index of Wellbeing report is worth reading and sharing – with friends, colleagues and decision makers. Beyond leisure and culture, the report examines domains such as community vitality, healthy populations, living standards, and time use.


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