The Bureau of Labor Statistics released the American Time Use Survey last Friday. This annual survey has thousands of Americans talk through how they spent the previous day, rolling over the entire year. This ingenious methodology cuts down on a few problems that plague other time surveys. BLS researchers don’t ask about any specific category of time (“how many hours do you work?”), which cuts down on the temptation respondents might feel to give socially acceptable answers. Since the questions deal with yesterday, as opposed to a “typical” day, this cuts out the bias that arises in making a decision about what is a typical day and what isn’t.
The results paint a very different picture of modern life than tends to appear in more alarmist surveys and articles. I wrote at Fast Company about the sleep findings. Not only does the average American sleep well over 8 hours per day — 8.83 to be exact! — this is about 15 minutes more per day than in 2003. I asked the BLS if this was a statistically significant increase, and in fact it is. This breaks down to 8.59 hours on weekdays and 9.40 on weekends and holidays. To be sure, an average means nothing for any individual person (my average, over an entire year, was 7.4 hours/day). Certain categories of Americans sleep less than others. In general, work hours are inversely related to sleep hours, though even employed Americans with school-aged children averaged 8.36 hours/day (8.31 for men, 8.42 for women). Americans who work longer hours will generally have lower averages; in my Mosaic project, women averaged 7.7 hours/day.
As the economist from the BLS that I interviewed told me, there is evidence that people tend to remember the nights they don’t sleep as much, which is likely because negative experiences in general stand out more than positive ones. This is why asking about a “typical” night is problematic. I am feeling a bit beat down right now from my non-resting toddler, but while I am getting 6.5 hours some number of nights, last night it was more like 8. One night last week it was 8.5. This should all be taken in context.
One other interesting finding was the complete bifurcation of the workforce on working from home. On an average workday, 39 percent of those with college degrees did some or all of their work from home; just 7 percent of Americans with high school diplomas did. Now, to be clear, this doesn’t mean that the 39 percent were telecommuting the whole day. This could just as easily mean you put in an 8-hour day at the office, come home, and then do an hour of email at night. But it does suggest that increasingly, more educated workers wind up in non-place specific jobs, whereas those with less education generally have jobs that are done in a specific place.
The gender gap in housework is narrowing. To quote the BLS:
“From 2003 to 2015, the share of men doing food preparation and cleanup on an average day increased from 35 percent to 43 percent. The average time per day men spent doing food preparation and cleanup increased by 5 minutes, from 16 minutes in 2003 to 21 minutes in 2015. From 2003 to 2015, the share of women doing housework on an average day decreased from 54 percent to 50 percent. The average time per day women spent doing housework declined from 58 minutes in 2003 to 52 minutes in 2015.”
We are still watching plenty of TV: 2.8 hours/day on average, or about 20 hours/week. (This is TV watching as a primary activity). Another not-terribly-surprising finding? There is a leisure gap between people with kids and without kids. “Employed adults living in households with no children under age 18 engaged in leisure activities for 4.5 hours per day, 1.1 hours more than employed adults living with a child under age 6.” Still, 3.4 hours of leisure time per day isn’t so bad! It is a wee bit more than the self-reported 17 minutes this article is lamenting.
In other news: I’ll be doing a Facebook Live chat with James Clear at 11 A.M. Eastern time today (June 28). Just go to Facebook.com/Jamesclear and like his page to watch. Thanks!