You weren’t planning on doing anything with your afternoon, were you? Well too bad—the New York Times has a fascinating new interactive chart that shows how Americans use their time.
There’s tons of data in here, and some of it simply confirms one’s intuitions. For example, having kids means you get less sleep. As any parent would tell you: DUH! But a lot of the information in there was, if not exactly unexpected, certainly a source of endless fascination.
Consider, for example, that Americans spend about 11 times as much time each day watching TV than they do just relaxing and thinking. And to think, 50 years ago TV was little more than an expensive novelty. Just so, only five percent of men over 15 say they spend any time walking on a given day. Yet for most of human existence, walking was the only form of transportation available to the large bulk of humanity.
It goes on and on: Americans spend about 3 times as much time shopping as they do praying; the unemployed get about an hour more sleep each day than do people with jobs. People who aren’t in the labor force—that is, if they’re retired, in school, or aren’t looking for a job—spend almost 4 hours a day watching television, but only 49 minutes a day socializing.
In fact, for me, the biggest takeaway from the numbers is that Americans spend a shockingamount of time in front of their TV sets. Passive viewing is our third most time-consuming activity, after sleeping and working, and claims between a fifth and a sixth of our waking hours. That’s just the average—it’s far more than that for retirees. Which is a little sad, since there’s research (see here, for example, though I haven’t read the original papers) suggesting that people who watch a lot of TV aren’t particularly happy. I’m not sure of the causality there—people could be unhappy because they watch TV, or they could watch TV because they don’t have ready avenues for more satisfying activities, such as spending time with friends. Regardless, there are plenty of other reasons to be concerned about our national TV viewing habits; as Juliet Schor showed in her fascinating book The Overspent American, people who watch more TV tend to spend and consume far more than their peers who do other things with their time. (You can Google for a bookstore link if you like, but I’ll encourage you to get it from your library rather than buy it—that is, if you have the time to go to your library. Or if you want the nutshell version, read this interview transcript—coincidentally, from Time magazine.)