Prevalence of procrastination in the United States, United Kingdom, and Australia: arousal and avoidance delays among adults.
Adults (Behavior)
Human acts
Human behavior
Ferrari, Joseph R.
O'Callghan, Jean
Newbegin, Ian
Pub Date:
Name: North American Journal of Psychology Publisher: North American Journal of Psychology Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Education; Psychology and mental health Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2005 North American Journal of Psychology ISSN: 1527-7143
Date: March-April, 2005 Source Volume: 7 Source Issue: 1
Event Code: 290 Public affairs Canadian Subject Form: Human behaviour
Product Code: E121940 Adults; 9911220 Behavior Theory
Geographic Scope: Australia; United Kingdom; United States Geographic Name: Australia; United Kingdom; United States Geographic Code: 8AUST Australia; 4EUUK United Kingdom; 1USA United States

Accession Number:
Full Text:
No systematic study has examined the global prevalence of chronic procrastination--the purposive delay in starting or completing tasks. In the present study, adult samples from the United States (122 women, 85 men), United Kingdom (143 women, 96 men), and Australia (124 women, 90 men) completed reliable and valid self-report measures of arousal procrastination (delays motivated by a "last-minute" thrill experience) and avoidant procrastination (delays related to fears of failure or success). Both men and women from the United Kingdom reported higher rates of arousal and avoidance procrastination compared to adults from the United States and Australia. However, when both procrastination types were separated statistically into "pure types" there were no significant differences across countries: 11.5% of adults self-identified as arousal procrastinators, and 9.9% of adults as avoidant procrastinators. Results indicated that chronic procrastination prevalence is common among westernized, individualistic, English-speaking countries; further epidemiological cross-cultural studies are needed.

It has been estimated that procrastination (i.e., frequent delays in starting and/or completing tasks to deadline: Ferrari, Johnson, & McCown, 1995) is common by around 70% of college students for academic-specific tasks (Ellis & Knaus, 1977), yet as high as 20% among normal adult men and women for everyday, daily life events such as paying bills and planning for personal health issues (Harriott & Ferrari, 1996). While it seems that procrastination rates decrease with age, Ferrari et al. (1995) proposed that these rates reflect different forms of procrastination, with the former an example of situational-specific task delays and the latter indicative of chronic, dispositional delay behavior patterns. That is, college students may engage in delay of studying but not in other aspects of their life (e.g., at part-time jobs or engaging in social events). In contrast, there are persons who frequently, almost chronically engage in task delays as a maladaptive lifestyle (Ferrari et al. 1995; Ferrari & Pychyl, 2000). It is the chronic, frequent delays that are the interest of the present exploratory study.

Two types of chronic procrastination with adverse social implications have been found equally common among U.S. men and women (Ferrari & Pychyl, 2000: Schowuenburg, Lay, Pychyl, & Ferrari, 2004), and more likely reported by "white collar" as compared to "blue collar" workers (Hammer & Ferrari, 2002). One form of chronic delays is arousal procrastination, delays that make a person experience a "high" when rushing to complete tasks. Individuals with this tendency indicate they purposively wait until the last minute in order to engage in hyper-activity as the deadline to the task approaches. Another form of chronic delays is avoidant procrastination, the delay of tasks such that completion would reflect one's abilities. By not completing a task by a specific deadline, the person may claim that poor performance was influenced by lack of effort or greater rates of time pressure instead of lack of personal ability (Ferrari et al., 1995).

People who claim chronic procrastination tendencies are more likely to engage in self-handicapping behaviors (Ferrari, 1991b; Ferrari & Tice, 2000), positive impression management, and avoidance of self-relevant evaluations (Ferrari, 1991d). Empirical studies also report that chronic procrastination is related to a host of other traits, including low states of self-confidence and self-esteem and high states of depression, neurosis, public self-consciousness, social anxiety, forgetfulness, disorganization, non-competitiveness, dysfunctional impulsiveness, behavioral rigidity, and lack of energy (Beswick, Rothblum, & Mann, 1988; Ferrari 1991a, b, 1992, 1993, 1994; Lay, 1986). In short, chronic procrastination is a complex phenomenon involving more than time management difficulty.

Ferrari (1992, 1993) reported that scores on the General Procrastination (GP) scale developed by Lay (1986: items found in Ferrari et al., 1995) loaded positively with arousal tendencies such as sensation seeking and boredom-proneness. Persons scoring high on the GP scale generate excuses for their delays that reflected external causes that could not be easily verified by others (Ferrari, 1993). Alternatively, Ferrari found that scores on the Adult Inventory of Procrastination (AIP) created by McCown and Johnson (1989: also available in Ferrari et al., 1995) reflected avoidant procrastination. Persons who score high on this measure utilize self-deprecation factors for their tendencies for delays (e.g., perceiving a lack of skills needed to perform a task, and fears of failure: Ferrari, 1993).

Unfortunately, previous investigations with adult samples only from the United States and/or Canada report that GP and AIP scores as highly inter-correlated (0.40 to 0.70: Ferrari et al., 1995). No published study reported cross-cultural prevalence rates of arousal and avoidant procrastination separately among adults from other westernized, English-speaking countries. Understanding the global rates of chronic procrastination may facilitate an understanding about whether people across cultures frequently delay tasks and whether those delays may be described from demographic profiles.

In the present study, adult samples completed both GP and AIP measures of procrastination. We then statistically separated rates of arousal and avoidant procrastination to examine "pure procrastination" types. Because this study was exploratory, without any previous research literature investigating prevalence rates across nationalities, we did not form any specific hypotheses on cultural rate differences among adult samples. We did expect, however, that the rates of adult chronic procrastination would be approximately 20% among the U.S. sample, consistent with several other reported prevalence studies examining arousal and avoidant procrastination (e.g., Ferrari, 1991a; Hammer & Ferrari, 2002; Harriott & Ferrari, 1996). We also expected there would be no significant sex differences in procrastination rates across countries, given previous studies with U.S. and Canadian adult samples (see Ferrari & Pychyl, 2000, for examples).



All participants were convenient samples from three English-speaking countries: United States (n = 207; 122 women, 85 men), United Kingdom (n = 239; 143 women, 96 men), and Australia (n = 214; 124 women, 90 men). The mean age across these adult samples was 40.7 years old (SD = 12.35). Most participants reported they were married (80%) with about 2 children (M number of children = 1.88, SD = 0.34). Participants also reported they were employed at their present position, on average, 2 to 3 years (M = 2.66 years, SD = 0.88). All participants volunteered to participate in this study (compliance rate > 90%) and none had previously participated in another procrastination or research study.

Procedure and Psychometric Scales

Participants were adults recruited by the three authors from their respective countries during a two-month period. Public meetings, general flyers, and gatherings of adults living in urban areas were used to solicit participants. Announcements asked men and women within the age range of 35 to 45 years old to complete a short set of measures on their tendency toward task delays, to be followed by a brief presentation on procrastination. In each case, one of the authors asked participants after signing and returning a consent form to complete a brief demographic sheet requesting their age, sex, marital status, number of children, and number of years of current employment, and then both procrastination inventories, in counter-balanced order.

All participants completed Lay's (1986) 20-item, 5-point (1 = not true of me; 5 = very true of me) General Procrastination Scale (GP) that examined behavioral tendencies to delays in the start of completion of everyday tasks for thrill-seeking experiences. Sample items include "I often find myself performing tasks that I had intended to do days before," and "I generally return phone calls promptly (reverse-coded)," (present sample alpha = 0.89). This scale has acceptable temporal stability (retest r [greater than or equal to] .60) and construct and predictive validities as a research inventory.

Also, participants completed the 15-item, self-report Adult Inventory of Procrastination (AIP), developed by McCown and Johnson (1989; see Ferrari et al., 1995, for details), to examine chronic task delays across a variety of situations motivated by avoidance of task unpleasantness and personal performance anxieties. Respondents rate items along a 5-point Likert scale (1 = strongly disagree; 5 = strongly agree), and seven items are reverse scored; high scores reflect a tendency to procrastinate. Sample items include "I often find myself running out of time" and "I don't get things done on time." Retest reliability at one month is 0.71 (McCown & Johnson, 1989) and the internal consistency of the measure has been > 0.80. With the present sample, coefficient alpha was 0.86.


Initially, preliminary chi-square and one-way ANOVAs indicated no significant differences across countries on any of the demographic items. These results indicate that the accidental samples included in this study were similar or matched in profiles on the specific demographic items included in this study. Next, a 2 (gender) by 3 (countries) MANOVA was performed on the GP and AIP mean scores. As expected, there was no significant sex main or interaction effects on either procrastination measure. These results support previous studies indicating that rates of chronic procrastination are similar among men and women (see Ferrari et al., 1995). Apparently, chronic procrastination tendencies may be found among adult men and women in various westernized, Anglo countries.

Furthermore, there was a significant main effect for countries on both procrastination measures, multivariate F (8, 1136) = 12.67, p < .001, Wilkes Lambda = .843. Subsequent univariate analyses indicated a significant difference among nationalities on scores for the GP scale, F (2, 655) = 20.56, p < .001. For arousal procrastination tendencies adults from the United Kingdom claimed significantly higher prevalence rates (M = 52.47, SD = 10.01) than adults from the United States (M = 48.01, SD = 9.91), which was higher than adults from Australia (M = 42.72, SD = 8.76). There also was a significant nationality effect on scores on the AIP scale. For avoidant procrastination tendencies adults from the United Kingdom again reported significantly higher prevalence rates (M = 40.91, SD = 5.51) than adults from either the United States (M = 35.67, SD = 4.43) or Australia (M = 33.97, SD = 5.33). Together, these results suggest that men and women from England report higher rates of arousal and avoidant procrastination than U.S. citizens or Australian, yet Australians claim they are least likely to engage in either form of chronic procrastination.

However, GP and AIP scores were significantly correlated within each country (overall r = 0.679, p < .001), suggesting that these chronic behavior patterns were not mutually exclusive. Consequently, pure procrastination types were calculated to permit separate assessments of prevalence rates across countries. Pure arousal procrastination was obtained by co-varying AIP scores and pure avoidant procrastination vice versa; residual scores were entered into the analyses.

Subsequent one-way ANOVAs across the three countries separately for both "pure" types of procrastination indicated no significant difference across the three English-speaking nations. Across all three countries, 11.5% of the adult samples self-identified themselves as chronic arousal procrastinators. A different 9.9% of the adult sample labeled themselves as chronic avoidant procrastinators. These rates replicate the 20% United States prevalence rates for chronic procrastination when both types were not separated into pure types (e.g., Hammer & Ferrari, 2002; Harriott & Ferrari, 1996).

It seems both types of chronic procrastination are prevalent among a significant number of English speaking adults from three westernized Anglo nations. While it appeared that procrastination prevalence might be higher among the English than U.S. or Australians, examining the rates for separate forms of chronic delays suggests the rates are similar across nations. These results indicate that globally there exist two related but separate forms of chronic procrastination: arousal and avoidance. Researchers must remember to use the appropriate inventory for the particular form of procrastination they which to assess.

Because this exploratory study included accidental samples, future studies need to include larger numbers of participants drawn from random samples from each of these three countries to increase greater generalizations beyond the samples reported here. Future studies should include epidemiological research with different socio-economic groups, living in different metropolitan settings, and across different sub-cultures within each country. Nevertheless, we believe these results demonstrate that chronic procrastination in fact is a common occurrence among adults living in westernized, individualistic, English-speaking countries.


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Schowuenburg, H.C., Lay, C., Pychyl, T.A., & Ferrari, J.R. (2004). Counseling the procrastinator in academic settings. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association.

Note: The authors thank the men and women who volunteered for the data collection process at the varied public meetings and gatherings.

Author info: Correspondence should be sent to: the first author at the Department of Psychology, DePaul University, 2219 North Kenmore Avenue, Chicago, IL, 60614;

North American Journal of Psychology, 2005, Vol. 7, No. 1, 1-6.

Joseph R. Ferrari

DePaul University

Jean O'Callaghan

Roehampton University

of Technology

Ian Newbegin

Royal Melbourne Institute
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Copyright 2005 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.