The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) recently released its annual American Time Use Survey, which looks at how Americans spend their time.
On average, the civilian population spends 8.8 hours sleeping, 2.8 hours watching TV, and 1.8 hours on household activities such as cooking, cleaning, and yardwork. Of course, a large chunk of time for employed persons was work, with an average of 7.8 hours spent on the job on workdays.
BLS data also indicates that Americans are working from home more frequently. From 2003 to 2014, BLS data indicates that the proportion of employed persons who did some or all of their work at home (on days they worked) increased from 19 percent to 23 percent. The amount of time spent working at home is also increasing, up by 37 minutes since 2003 to reach 3.2 hours.
Men tend to work longer hours than women. In fact, on days they worked, employed men worked 52 minutes more than employed women. Part of the difference is due to the higher proportion of women choosing to work part time. However, even if you look at full-time workers only, men still tend to work longer than women, with 8.4 hours compared to 7.8 hours. (This is part of the explanation for the gender wage gap.)
Looking at work hours by occupation, farming, fishing and forestry involved the longest hours by a wide margin with 9.9 per day. Installation, maintenance, and repair; production, construction and extraction; and transportation and material moving all involved typical workdays in excess of eight hours. The shortest typical workdays were in service, professional and related, and sales and related occupational groups.
Educational attainment also plays a role in typical hours. The longest average hours of work was 8.24 for people with some college or an associate degree, followed by high school graduates with no college at 8.08. Those with less than a high school diploma averaged 7.84 hours, while individuals with a bachelor’s degree and higher came in at 7.50 hours. Note that these averages from the BLS are for employed persons for working days.
While more education is generally linked to fewer hours, higher wages are linked to longer hours. Peter Kuhn and Fernando Lozano looked at connections between hours worked, education, and income in a National Bureau of Economic Research working paper (The Expanding Workweek: Understanding Trends in Long Work Hours Among U.S. Men, 1979-2004 Working Paper No. 11895). They found that for college-educated men, the proportion working 50 hours or more climbed from 22.2 percent in 1979 to 30.5 percent in 2002. The frequency of long work hours increased among the top quintile of wage earners, but fell in the lowest quintile. In addition, Kuhn and Lozano found that there has been a reversal in the relationship between wages and hours. In 1983, the lowest earning 20 percent of workers were more likely to put in long work hours than the top paid 20 percent. However, in 2002, the best-paid 20 percent were twice as likely to work long hours as the bottom 20 percent.
When comparing U.S. patterns to other countries, data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) shows that working Americans tend to work more hours than people in many other highly industrialized countries. Moreover, while some nations have seen hours worked per year trending sharply downward (due to both shorter workdays and more vacation time), the U.S. has been fairly flat.
Although work naturally takes up a large segment of time for employed persons, the BLS time-use survey found that on an average day, nearly everyone age 15 and over (a full 96 percent) did find time to engage in some sort of leisure activity such as watching TV, socializing, or exercising.
The American workday is changing, with more time spent working at home and high-income jobs increasingly more likely to require longer hours. Even so, we find time to play, or at least watch a little television.