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Nov 25, 2020 | by Ashley Whillans

Prioritising time during major life transitions

Note from the Centre: There are benefits in higher and further education courses beyond income. These benefits impact the students, as well as their wider communities. Measuring the wider wellbeing effects of courses can help:

The Centre is currently working with The Children’s Society on improving how children and young people’s wellbeing is measured. The goal is to help schools and colleges understand how their students are doing, and the wellbeing value they can add.

Each year millions of graduates are faced with the decision of where to work after graduation. Many of these decisions involve trade-offs between time and money. Despite the importance of these major life decisions, we know very little about how people navigate them.

We set out to explore how students’ priorities shaped their career choices and happiness after graduation.

Tracking students’ time use and wellbeing

We asked more than 1,000 college students from the graduating class of 2015 and 2016 at the University of British Columbia whether they generally prioritised time or money. To do so, we presented descriptions of two people: Morgan—who valued money, and Taylor—who valued time. After telling us who they resembled, students reported their personal wellbeing by answering validated questions, such as this one from the Office for National Statistics: “how satisfied are you with your life overall?”

Within the next two years, we followed up with these students and asked them to report on:

  • their current happiness
  • the primary activity that was taking up most of their time (school, work, or volunteering)
  • the reason that they were completing this activity.  

Even when we accounted for how happy students were when they started our study, students who valued time were more satisfied with their lives and careers one to two years after graduation. Our results which were published at Science Advances provide strong evidence that valuing time puts people on a trajectory toward job satisfaction and wellbeing.

Why does valuing time make a difference?

After graduation, students who valued time were more likely to report that they were working at something they ‘wanted to do’ as opposed to something they ‘had to do’. Students who said that time was their most valuable resource weren’t happier because they worked less. Rather, they got more enjoyment out of the work they did. 

This matters because when we are deciding what job to choosemost of us focus too much on salary and not enough on fulfilment. This may be due to our personal beliefs, or something we have little control over because of our personal circumstances.

Yet in our study, students who valued time were more likely to focus on the gratification factor of their future careers; they wanted jobs that were personally meaningful. This may help to explain why they reported greater happiness later. 

Time and money trade-offs

Figuring out how to encourage more people to prioritise their time has never been more important. How we value time and money affects our happiness as a society. In data we analysed from 220,000 respondents in 80 countries, nations with a higher percentage of citizens who valued leisure more than work scored higher in happiness. 

Decisions about time and money are present in all of our lives. Sometimes we cannot choose our priorities; we might need to choose the better paying job. However, society needs to work harder to make us all feel like we have the choice to prioritise time over money. Indeed, valuing time is likely to bring us greater joy both in the moment and in the long term.


Practice Examples
Jan 22, 2015
Career Connect: Supporting resilience through transitions into employment, education, and training.
Feb 6, 2019
Create a student health and wellbeing strategy
Sep 14, 2018
Mental health in young people entering uni
Dec 5, 2018
Proactively preventing suicide at uni
Mar 5, 2020 | By Nancy Hey
Student mental health: state of the evidence
Centre Blog
Jul 30, 2018 | By Centre
Academic perspective: Research gaps in student mental health
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Jul 15, 2020 | By Centre
Can wellbeing evidence inform students’ study and career choices?
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