Survey details how Americans spend their time

By SCOTT BARANCIK, Times Staff Writer
Published September 15, 2004

Ever wonder how much time the average American spends trying, but failing, to sleep each night? How much time we spend each day waiting for food at a restaurant, talking to telemarketers, watching volleyball or having sex?

These aren't the sorts of questions the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics typically asks people. Part of the U.S. Department of Labor, BLS is best known for its dry surveys on unemployment, wages and other work-related trends.

But, last year, the agency spent $4.5-million compiling the results of a survey of 21,000 Americans who were asked to keep a diary of everything they did within a 24-hour period. The result was an astoundingly detailed snapshot of the average American's day, and may give policymakers hints for how to relieve our stresses and improve our lives. The survey will be conducted annually.

"I was surprised to see how little time people were spending in a 24-hour period on education, versus on television," said Mike Wald, southeast regional economist at BLS. "It's not judgmental. That's not our job. We're saying, "This is what you (Americans) are doing.' "

BLS separated the feedback into 12 categories and 426 subcategories of activity, each of which may contain dozens of personalized answers. Under the category of "household services," for example, are such activities as hiring a butler, dropping clothes off at the dry cleaners and paying a pet sitter. "Socializing, relaxing and leisure" covers attending a bachelor party, smoking marijuana, playing Scrabble and attending a poetry reading. The data can be sorted by gender, age, education, employment, race and weekdays or weekends.

The findings bust some myths and bolster others about how Americans spend their days.


Adults living with a child younger than 6 spent an average of 3.9 hours of their "diary day" doing leisure or sports activities, or 1.7 hours less than those with no kids at home.

One possible reason: adults with a young child spent 2.1 hours per weekday caring for family members. Those without kids? Five minutes. PASS THE REMOTE, GRANDPA

Men and women 65 or older spent more time watching television than any other age group: 4.1 and 3.7 hours per day, respectively. They also spent more time reading for pleasure: about an hour a day. On average, men and women ages 15 to 24 spent just eight minutes a day reading for pleasure.


The biggest socializers are those ages 15 to 24, who spent an hour a day arguing with family, hugging friends and chatting with neighbors. The same age group spent just 13 minutes a day "relaxing/thinking."

But the latter category is less lofty than it sounds. Actual examples from surveyed adults include "goofing off," "daydreaming," "sunbathing," "crying" and "watching husband assemble lawn mower."


Only 5 percent of Americans participated in a spiritual service or practice on weekdays, and 16 percent on weekends.

But those 16 percent spent an average of 2.1 hours religiously on their "diary day." TGIF?

A third of all workers 15 or older worked on the average Saturday, Sunday or holiday, clocking in for 5.7 hours.

Those with a college degree were most likely to work on a weekend or holiday: 36 percent did, versus 28 percent of high school dropouts. But those without a high school degree worked an average of 2.4 hours more than the college grads.


Among those 15 or older, 55 percent of women did some housework on their "diary day," compared with just 20 percent of men. Similarly, 66 percent of women did some food preparation or cleanup, versus 35 percent of men.

More men worked, however: 54 said they worked on their "diary day," compared with 39 percent of women.

Scott Barancik can be reached at 727 893-8751 or