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Jul 16, 2007

DePaul University Study Shows Prevalence of Chronic Procrastination Regardless of Gender and National Origin

Benjamin Franklin may have had a few procrastinators in mind when he coined the adage “never leave that til tomorrow which you can do today.”

Yesteryear’s well-meaning wisdom aside, procrastination is a growing modern malady that apparently has no gender, age or even ethnic boundaries. A new international study, headed by DePaul University psychology professor and leading expert on procrastination Joseph Ferrari, found a prevalence of chronic procrastinators in a cross-section of countries with different cultural values. The study also found no significant differences based on gender.

“Frequent Behavioral Delay Tendencies by Adults: International Prevalence Rates of Chronic Procrastination” is published in the July issue of the Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology and is the first study to examine chronic procrastination in six countries. Joining Ferrari in the research were four co-investigators: Juan Francisco Diaz-Morales from the Complutense University of Madrid; Jean O’Callaghan from Roehampton University in London; and Karen Diaz and Doris Argumedo from Pontifical Catholic University in Lima, Peru.

The researchers surveyed nearly1,400 adult men and women from six nations (Australia, Peru, Spain, the United Kingdom, the United States and Venezuela) to identify those who were chronic procrastinators—people who make the habit of putting things off a lifestyle practice. Procrastinators were further categorized as being either “arousal” or “avoidant” types, both of which according to Ferrari are behaviorally based.

Arousal procrastinators tend to work better under deadline pressure and derive a thrill from racing the clock. “It’s a protective practice so that if they fail they can attribute it to a lack of time and not to their personal performance or ability,” Ferrari explained. Avoidant types fear failure but also can fear success. Both fears, according to Ferrari, will stop them from performing certain tasks altogether.

The study of delay tendencies in the six countries found that the average percentage of both types of procrastinators was 13.5 percent for arousal motive and 14.6 percent for avoidant tendencies. The totals number of chronic procrastinators among participants in the research was slightly more than 28 percent.

“There were not significant differences based on sex, which is contrary to what many people believe,” said Ferrari. “I think society pushes the myth that men are more likely to procrastinate, particularly when it comes to such tasks as performing household chores. The data show that’s not true.”

The researchers were more surprised by the cross-cultural commonalities of chronic procrastination. According to Ferrari, some of the participants were from industrialized urban areas where there is access to cutting-edge technology, while others were from remote, agrarian cultures. However, these geographical and lifestyle differences did not result in significant differences in the prevalence of procrastinators.

In Peru, for instance, the problem of procrastination has been recognized by President Alejandro Toledo who has declared an end to “Peruvian time,” where people customarily arrive at least two to three hours late for events, including weddings and funerals. The South American country averaged 12.4 percent for arousal procrastinators and 14.9 percent for avoiders, while the more industrialized United Kingdom averaged 10.9 and 13.8 percent, respectively.

“I would never have expected this,” Ferrari said. “I would have expected significant cultural differences, but apparently cultural differences disappear when there is chronic procrastination.”

According to Ferrari, epidemiologists who have heard about the percentages of procrastination tendencies from the study indicate that they are high—higher than the percentage ranges for many physical and psychological illnesses. The numbers of people with phobias—a mental disorder considered to be the most common in the U.S.—is estimated to be only 10 percent, according to Ferrari. Treatment for and causes of chronic procrastination will be discussed by Ferrari and other experts at the “Fifth International Meeting on the Study of Procrastination” July 23 and 24 in Lima.. The meeting, held every two years, draws a small group of international scholars and health clinicians to examine the problem of procrastination.

“For years, people did not see chronic procrastination as a serious issue,” Ferrari said. “Yet there were many examples of the impact from it, from the State of Maryland, which has had no budget for two years because of a procrastinating governor, to Minnesota, where the capitol building is falling apart because they didn’t do the repairs years earlier when they should have. Now, we have economists writing about the costs of procrastination and more people are listening,” said Ferrari.

Editors’ Note: News media can access the study online at the following link: