How Does the Average American Spend Their Time?

Every year, the Bureau of Labor Statistics conducts a time-use survey of the U.S. population. The 2013 survey found, among other things, that the average work day is 7.6 hours long; employed men work 53 minutes more per day than employed women, even when full-time schedules are compared; thirty-four percent of the population is working on the weekend; and those with a bachelor’s degree are far more likely to do some of their work at home, compared to those with less than a high school degree.

The survey also found that nearly all of us engage in leisure activities on a daily basis, with watching television being the most popular form of leisure, on which we spend an average of 2.8 hours per day. On the second most common leisure activity, socializing with friends, we spent just 43 minutes daily. Unsurprisingly, employed adults who do not live with children under the age of 18 spend an hour more per day on leisure than do those who live with children under the age of 6.

The most striking findings, however, have to do with the role of gender in shaping how we spend our time. The New York Times recently spotlighted findings from the survey that show very clear gendered trends among unemployed adults. One of the most glaring differences within this group is that men spend more time watching television, and more than twice as many men as women reported that watching television and movies was their main activity. Meanwhile, unemployed women are much more likely to spend a significant chunk of time on household activities. Combined with caring for others, women spent an average of six hours per day on these tasks, versus just three hours for the average unemployed man.

These differences among unemployed people are consistent with society-wide disparities in how we spend our time. The survey also reveals that it is more common for women–regardless of employment status–to spend time on household activities on a given day than it is for men (83 percent of women versus 65 percent of men), and women spend nearly twenty-four percent more time on these activities than do men. Looking specifically at housework like cleaning and doing laundry, on a given day, just 19 percent of men do these things, while 49 percent of women do. The gender divide, though still present, is less severe for food preparation and cleanup (68 percent of women versus 42 percent of men). (For a closer look at the gendered breakdown in household activities, take a look at these revealing charts.)

In terms of caring for children under the age of six, women spent more than twice as much time providing physical care than did men (1 hour versus 26 minutes). The study also found that women across all age groups are more likely to volunteer their time than are men, with the greatest disparity among those 35-44 years old.

It’s important to note that these trends are present regardless of whether or not a woman works outside of the home. A 2013 study by Pew Research Center found that though the gender gap in how married heterosexual couples spend their time has narrowed over the last few decades, it is still present, even though women now spend much more time working outside the home. And, a 2014 study by Pew found that fathers enjoy more leisure time on the weekends than do mothers. All of these findings are consistent with research by sociologists Arlie Russell Hochschild and Anne Machung, who documented the gendered burden of the “second shift”–household labor performed by married women who work outside the home–in their book by the same name.

It seems that while women are doing more housework and care work, men are able to indulge in more leisure time. Overall, men spend 13 percent more time on leisure than women. This trend could have impacts on health and well-being, as the study found that men are more likely than women to engage in sports and exercise, and that on a given day they spend more time on these things than do women who engage in them.

So, when you hear a woman suggest that she is unfairly burdened by household labor and care work, believe the hype. We are still a deeply unequal society in terms of gender, and this is just one of the troubling manifestations of an entrenched patriarchal power structure and culture.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s