The American Time Use Survey results are out!

It is hard to describe my joy when I discovered the American Time Use Survey (ATUS) a few years ago. This large scale time diary study, conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, reveals how Americans really spend the 24 hours we have each day and the 168 hours we have each week. Not how we think we spend them.

This is a critical distinction, because we talk ourselves into observing all sorts of “trends” that are not really trends. For instance, if you ask many people, they’ll say that Americans are “increasingly overworked” and “increasingly sleep-deprived.” They’ll tell you that moms of young kids rarely sleep (and certainly sleep less than dads!) They’ll tell you that, thanks to the recession, Americans are rediscovering the simpler joys of spending time with family and friends, or reading a good book.

Um, no. The recession certainly has Americans working less, on average, but we’re spending a lot of that time watching more TV. And sleeping more. Which sounds like a good thing, until you realize that the average American gets well over 8 hours of sleep per 24-hour period already.

Anyway, the 2010 ATUS results are now out. (The data in 168 Hours are largely from the 2003-2009 ATUS results). They reveal some interesting other tidbits, in addition to our growing TV addiction:

* Among full-time workers, men put in 8.3 hours of work per workday, and women put in 7.5. This means that women are working approximately 10% fewer hours than men. This doesn’t entirely explain the male-female wage gap (for year-round full-time workers, women earn about 80 cents on the dollar vs. men) but it explains half of it.

* Nearly a quarter (24%) of employed persons did some or all of their work at home, and 84% did some or all of their work at a workplace. By my calculation that would mean that about 16% of workers are pretty exclusively operating out of the home-office (unless the ATUS found a huge contingent operating out of Starbucks!). Men and women are equally likely to work from home.

* Men have 5.8 hours of leisure per day, and women have 5.1 hours. We watch TV about half of this time. These figures are for men and women overall, however, and includes retirees and those out of the workforce. Among those time crunched folks with young kids (<6) and jobs, leisure falls to around 3.5 hours/day. But this is still a lot. Employed folks without kids get around 4.5 hours/day.

* Americans in general sleep 8.67 hours per day. In other words, quite a bit. This average isn’t skewed by retirees and teens. Even moms who are in the workforce and have kids under age 6 sleep 8.35 hours per night. Comparable dads sleep 8.2 hours per night. These figures aren’t hugely different (the 0.15 hour difference is 9 minutes), but suggests that the widespread narrative that working moms sacrifice their own sleep to put the needs of everyone else first isn’t entirely accurate. Or if it is, dads are doing it more than moms.

* Moms who are employed and have kids under age 6 spent 2.07 hours per day on childcare as a primary activity. Moms who are not in the workforce and have kids under age 6 spent… 2.76 hours. In other words, this is a difference of 0.69 hours per day, or about 42 minutes. Not the 8-10 hours some pundits would have you believe.

* Oh those teenagers! Young people aged 15-19 spent just 5 minutes reading on any given weekend day. They spent 1 hour playing games or being on the computer for leisure (many of us are probably surprised it isn’t more!)

5 thoughts on “The American Time Use Survey results are out!

  1. This is interesting stuff! I’m not sure I understand the one about Moms and hours per day spent on childcare. Does it mean that a Mom who is not in the workforce only spend .69 more hours caring for their children than a Mom who is in the workforce? I’m not sure that makes sense.

    1. It is childcare as a primary activity. So if kid is watching TV and mom is checking email, that is not included. Plus even young kids have their own lives: going to preschool, napping, playing independently. And the average employed mom doesn’t work that much. PT around 19 hours and FT around 35.

  2. Thanks for posting to this, especially since this survey has been defunded, as far as I know. A little publicity might get this funded again. Here’s a Freakonomics post from 2008 mentioning the value of this survey and the fight to save it. I haven’t managed to find out if it’s been funded for 2011 or not.

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