Were It Not For Work, Sleep And TV, We’d Have Time To Do Lots Of Things

As the day winds down, we often ask ourselves, “Where did the time go?” As luck would have it, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has the answer in a detailed report released last week. It’s based on data gathered in 2004 through interviews with about 14,000 Americans age 15 and older. The participants were asked to specify how they spent all the time from 4 a.m. on the day before being queried to 4 a.m. on the day of the interview—a period termed their “diary day.”

Work and sleep took the biggest chunks of time. Men slept 8.51 hours, women 8.61 hours. Among those employed full-time, men worked 8.3 hours and women 7.8 hours. “Household activities” (such as housework, cooking, lawn care and financial tasks) took time for 84 percent of women and 63 percent of men. Among those engaged in such toil on diary day, women spent 2.7 hours at it and men 2.1 hours. Some traditional gender gaps are alive and well. “Nineteen percent of men reported doing housework—such as cleaning or doing laundry—compared with 54 percent of women. Thirty-five percent of men did food preparation or cleanup, vs. 66 percent of women.” In households with a child under age 6, women spent twice as much time as men providing “primary care” for Junior (2.7 hours vs. 1.2 hours). Eating and drinking accounted for 1.24 hours, on average—1.31 for men and 1.18 for women. (There was a striking racial disparity in eating/drinking time: 1.29 hours for whites vs. 0.88 for blacks.) Women spent more than twice as much time as men on phone calls, mail and e-mail (0.25 hours vs. 0.11 hours). Shopping consumed a non-trivial amount of people’s time. “Purchasing goods and services” took an average of 0.81 hours on diary day. True to stereotype, men spent less time on this activity than women did (0.65 hours vs. 0.96 hours).

Does all of this leave any time for leisure? More than you might guess. Men spent an average of 5.56 daily hours on “leisure and sports,” while women spent 4.82 hours. Married women got the short end of the leisure stick, averaging 4.45 hours, vs. 5.09 for married men, 5.24 for unmarried women and 6.19 for unmarried men. If people feel they have little free time, perhaps it’s because they fritter so much of it away in front of the TV. The study found TV viewing “accounting for about half of leisure time on average for both men and women.” Men watched the tube for an average of 2.85 hours on their diary day, women for 2.44 hours. “Socializing and communicating” was a distant runner-up among leisure activities, consuming 0.71 hours of the average man’s day and 0.78 hours of the average woman’s.