Constrained choices: Combined influences of work, social circumstances, and social location on time-dependent health behaviors

Megan R. Winkler, Susan Telke, Emily Q. Ahonen, Melissa M. Crane, Susan M. Mason, Dianne Neumark-Sztainer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Background: Physical activity and sleep are two time-dependent behaviors with important health implications. The amount of time people have to engage in these behaviors may vary based on their everyday work, social circumstances (e.g., parenthood), and social location (e.g., gender). Aims: The current study aimed to explore the ways work, social circumstances, and social locations combine that lead to heterogeneity in the time-dependent health behaviors of physical activity and time spent in bed (i.e., sleep) among a young adult population. We drew upon two conceptual frameworks—Constrained Choices and an intersectionality perspective—and examined multiple work characteristics (e.g., number of jobs), social circumstances (e.g., household income), and social locations (e.g., U.S. nativity) relevant to young adulthood. Methods: 2015–2016 data from a Minneapolis-St. Paul, U.S. cohort of 1830 young adults (25–36 years) were analyzed using conditional inference tree (CIT)—a data-driven approach which identifies population sub-groups that differ in their outcome values as well as in the interacting factors that predict outcome differences. Sensitivity analyses to evaluate CIT robustness were also performed. Results: CITs revealed four relevant sub-groups for physical activity (sub-group averages ranged = 2.9–4.9 h per week), with working mothers achieving the least activity, and six relevant sub-groups for time in bed (range = 7.8–8.7 h per day), with full-time working men obtaining the least. In both models, parent status and employment status/hours were found to consistently differentiate behavior among women but not men. Conclusion: According to these data, time to engage in physical activity and time in bed was constrained by particular everyday contexts (work and parent status) and the extent to which these contexts mattered also depended on gender. If replicated in other studies, results suggest equitable strategies are necessary to assist all parents and workers in engaging in these time-dependent health behaviors for long-term health.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number100562
JournalSSM - Population Health
StatePublished - Aug 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Employment
  • Family characteristic
  • Gender
  • Health behavior
  • Population health
  • U.S.
  • Young adulthood

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Health Policy
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health

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