The Prevalence of Procrastination
Everyone isn't doing it.
Posted Oct 16, 2020
Just again in the media, and from a colleague, I heard “we are procrastinating more today than a couple of decades ago.” I could not disagree more.
True, 2020 brought us a global pandemic and it seemed the world stopped, delayed action, “frozen” in fear. While it is not everyone, in every situation, every country—there is truth to this popular belief.
But that is not procrastination… at least, not procrastination as studied by scholars. I reported in other PT blog posts that chronic procrastination is not the same as delay, waiting, postponing, or pondering. Everyone might procrastinate a task they find hard, fearful, unpleasant, boring — but that does not make one a procrastinator. For scientists, procrastinators are persons [women and men; no significant gender difference] who delay the start or completing tasks across situations and time and feel uncomfortable—are upset—not to finish. This delay is irrational and counter-productive to reaching goals.
Is the U.S. a ProcrastiNATION?
People in the USA are not procrastinating more now, in the 21st century, than in the past. In a 1991 published study (Ferrari, 1991a) I found that 20% of adult women and men self-identify as “chronic procrastinators,” meaning they purposively delay tasks at home, school, work, in relationships, appointments, etc. This style is their lifestyle.
Prevalence of 20% among women and men, without psychiatric disorders, is higher than persons diagnosed with depression, substance abuse or alcoholism, panic attacks. Please realize we are referring to a maladaptive lifestyle impacting relationships, home life, work-related situations, academic behaviors, etc. These 20% chronic procrastinators don’t RSVP on time, fail to mail greeting cards on time for celebrations, wait until the gas tank is empty before refilling, have food spoiling in the refrigerator because it got old, receive third late notes for paying bills, stay up late at night unable to go to bed, etc. This is their lifestyle.
And, we like procrastinators because they are very sociable people (Ferrari, 1991b). The issue, however, is we excuse their lateness over and over and over and… it's serious, it is not funny. “Procs” [as I call folks] are not lazy; they work hard on avoiding tasks and situations that might reveal their strengths, and weaknesses, to others and to themselves (Ferrari, 1991c; 1991d).
But at a rate of 20%, it is not isolated or affecting a few people. There are many people who report, who see themselves and seen by others — as chronic procrastinators (Ferrari, 2010; Ferrari & Lincoth, 2014). The prevalence of procrastination has not risen; instead, the media and even research psychologists are discussing/studying the topic more often. When I decided to study procrastination for my doctoral dissertation in 1988-89, there was practically no published work on the topic, just a few papers on "writer’s block" and "career indecision." As a social-personality psychologist, however, I knew there was more about this common tendency. My mission: examining the causes and consequences of chronic procrastination across the USA, maybe a "procrastiNATION’" (Tibbett & Ferrari, 2018). We are demonizing procs, but noting it's common, and because it's learned, it can be unlearned (see Ferrari, 2010).
Global Inertia? Proc Prevalence, Across Nations
In the past 30 years, I found this rate to be rather consistent across the U.S.A., and in many other countries. In fact, a 20% procrastination prevalence was found globally, in England, Australia (Ferrari, O’Callaghan, & Newbegin, 2005), Ireland (Levin & Ferrari, 2015), Canada, Spain, Peru, Venezuela (Diaz-Morales, Ferrari Diaz, & Argumendo, 2006a: 2006b), Poland, Italy (Marini & Ferrari, 2012), Austria, S. Korea, Japan (Nomura & Ferrari, 2018), Turkey (Ferrari, Özer, & Demir, 2009) Israel, Saudi Arabia, and India to name a few nations.
To me, because we find high chronic procrastination rates around the world suggests this is not some unique Western lifestyle issue. It is more than just a tendency to delay or wait. Instead, it means we need to consider the impact of procrastination on our lives. And keep in mind, we are not alone; procs must not withdraw and self-shame over the chronic maladaptive lifestyle.
Summary: So What?
Procrastination rates are not rising, but they are consistently high across the U.S. and in other Western, Eastern, and Middle Eastern nations. (Hmm, what about Africa? We do not know those rates—let’s collaborate!). I really want to emphasize: A 20% rate of procrastination is high yet, it signs you are not alone. Many people are not doing it. While that does not excuse proc behaviors (because they do impact on one’s life and the life of others: Ferrari, 2010), we see that it is learned and adjustable. Part of human nature? Unlikely; there is little genetic basis for procrastination tendencies. No. Instead, learn to fear potential or actual failures, don’t have regrets for "what I should have done," leave a legacy, make a difference.
Thanks for improving the lives of others; thanks for being you.
Diaz-Morales, J.F., Ferrari, J.R., Diaz, K., & Argumendo, D. (2006a). Factor structure of three procrastination scales with a Spanish adult population. European Journal of Personality Assessment, 22, 132-137.
Diaz-Morales, J.F., Ferrari, J.R., Diaz, K., & Argumendo, D. (2006b). Procrastination and demographic characteristics among Spanish adults: Further evidence. The Journal of Social Psychology, 146, 629-633.
Ferrari, J.R. (1991a). Compulsive procrastination: Some self-reported characteristics. Psychological Reports, 68, 455 – 458.
Ferrari, J.R. (1991b). A preference for a favorable public impression by procrastination: Selecting among cognitive and social tasks. Personality and Individual Differences, 12, 1233-1237.
Ferrari, J.R. (1991c). Self-handicapping by procrastinators: Protecting social-esteem, self-esteem, or both? Journal of Research in Personality, 25, 245-261.
Ferrari, J.R. (1991d). Procrastination and project creation: Choosing easy, non-diagnostic items to avoid self-relevant information. Journal of Social Behavior and Personality, 6, 619-628.
Ferrari, J.R. (2010). Still Procrastinating? The No Regrets Guide to Getting It Done. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Ferrari, J.R. & Lincoth, N. (2014). ‘Guess I am a procrastinator:’ Self and other perceptions among rural US citizens. North American Journal of Psychology, 16, 121-128.
Ferrari, J.R., & Tibbett, T. P. (2017). Procrastination. In V. Zeigler-Hill & T.K. Shackelford (Eds). Encyclopedia of Personality and Individual Differences, pp. 1 - 8. New York: Springer Meteor Press.
Ferrari, J.R., O’Callaghan, J., & Newbegin, I. (2005). Prevalence of procrastination in the United States, United Kingdom, and Australia: Arousal and avoidance delays in adults. North American Journal of Psychology, 7, 1-6.
Ferrari, J.R. Özer, B.U. & Demir, A (2009). Chronic procrastination among Turkish adults: Exploring decisional, avoidant, and arousal styles. Journal of Social Psychology, 149, 302 – 307.
Levin, S., & Ferrari, J.R. (2015: July). Procrastination and internet addiction: Examining personality factors among Irish and US university students. Poster presented at the 9th biennial International Meeting on the Study of Procrastination, Bielefeld, Germany.
Marini, M.G., & Ferrari, J.R. (2012). Adult Inventory of Procrastination (AIP): A comparison of four models with an Italian sample. Testing, Psychometrics, & Methodology in Applied Psychology, 19, 1-13.
Nomura, M., & Ferrari, J.R. (2018). Factor structure of a Japanese version of the Adult Inventory of Procrastination scale: Delay is not culture specific. North American Journal of Psychology. 20, 223-238.
Tibbett, T. P., & Ferrari, J. R. (2018). The U.S. as a ‘ProcrastiNATION’: Assessing indecision on life satisfaction and life regret. North American Journal of Psychology, 20, 111 - 120.