How Different Groups Of Americans Spend Their Day

Ever wonder what the average American day is actually like? The New York Times published an interactive visualization this week based on data gathered in the American Time Use Survey in 2008 that shows how different groups in the US spend their day. Below are some of the key insights from the survey on the different groups. Not surprisingly, the most striking differences in time usage were between the employed and unemployed…

How Different Groups Spend Their Day

spend their day

Key Demographic Insights From The Survey

  • Everyone: Sleeping, eating, working and watching television take up about two-thirds of the average day.
  • Men: Working peaks around 11 a.m., when 40 percent of men are at work. (On weekdays, 70 percent of men with a job are working at that time.)
  • Women: At any point during the average day, more than 80 percent of women are doing something other than household chores or caring for children.  Together, chores and child care peak around 6 p.m.
  • The Employed: At 6 a.m., about 60 percent of employed people are sleeping, compared with more than 80 percent of those who are unemployed.
  • The Unemployed: On average, the unemployed spend about a half-hour looking for work. They tidy the house, do laundry and yard work for more than two hours, about an hour more than the employed.
  • People Not In The Labor Force: People who are not part of the labor force (a mix of the young, old, homemakers and others) spend about four hours watching television, 50 minutes more than the unemployed.
  • White: Whites spend about 25 minutes reading for personal interest (shown here with other leisure activities), more than twice as much as other Americans.
  • African Americans: Blacks spend 17 minutes a day (or about two hours a week) on religious activities, more than twice as much as other Americans.
  • Hispanics: Hispanics and whites are equally likely to be dining at noon, but hispanics are 1.5 times LESS likely to be eating at 6:30 p.m., the peak dinner time.
  • Ages 15-24: About half of this group is enrolled in school. While the young spend the most time on the telephone, they spend the least time on calls to family members.
  • Ages 25 to 64: About 75 percent of this group — including two-thirds of women — is employed.
  • Ages 65 and over: At 2 p.m., about 1 in 15 people over age 65 is asleep. Older people also spend more time eating (particularly breakfast).
  • High School Grads: At 3 a.m., more than 2 percent of people with only a high school diploma (or some college) are working, double the rate for people with bachelor’s degrees.
  • People With Bachelor’s Degrees: College graduates spend about two hours watching television, significantly less than those with less education.
  • People With Advanced Degrees: Those with advanced degrees spend the most time volunteering: 14 minutes a day (or more than an hour and a half a week), on average.
  • People With No Children: Adults living with no children tend to be older: their average age is 51, compared with 38 for adults living with children.
  • People With One Child: At 8:30 a.m., more than 20 percent of the adults living with one child are asleep, compared with 15 percent of those living with two or more children.
  • People with Two or More Children: Compared with people living with one child, those with two or more children spend an additional half-hour caring for family members.

For the Unemployed, the Day Stacks Up Differently

The data across most groups is the same, until you isolate the unemployed. Nearly 1 in 10 members of the American work force is currently unemployed right now, which is significant, considering the unemployment rate hasn’t been that high in 27 years. The survey showed that on an average weekday, the unemployed sleep an hour more than their employed peers. They tidy the house, do laundry and yard work for more than two hours, twice as much as the employed. The unemployed also spend an extra hour in the classroom and an additional 70 minutes in front of the television. Personally, I was a bit surprised to see that the unemployed generally only spend a half hour job hunting, and replace “work” so heavily with household activities.

the unemployedthe employed

TV and Movies Vs. Computer Usage

One of the most surprising insights that the Times analysts never mention is the shockingly small amount of “Computer Use” people report throughout the day as a leisure activity. Across the board, all demographic groups seem to still spend the majority of their free time in front of the tube. I’d expect this from employed knowledge workers (who probably use the computer all day at work and would prefer to do something else in the evening, but even at peak times (10am-12pm) do we see anything more than 1-2% of the unemployed using the computer “as an activity”, for entertainment or otherwise. It’ll be interesting to see if this shifts as entertainment options on the web become further integrated into mainstream tv-like experiences.

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