Economic Activity and Labor

How Do Americans Spend Their Time?

The American Time Use Survey (ATUS), which has been sponsored by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau since 2003, provides information about how people in the United States spend their time on an average day 1. By including valuable information about what activities people do during the day and how much time they spend doing each, the survey creates a larger picture of employment. For instance, on an average day in 2006, people spent 3.40 hours working. However, only about 45 percent of the entire population (51 percent of men and 39 percent of women) worked on an average day. Among the civilian population, the average daily number of work hours was 7.59 (8.04 hours for men and 7.04 for women).

Not surprisingly, sleeping was the most time-consuming daily activity for the civilian population as a whole. Leisure and sports came next, with 5.09 hours; much of their leisure time was spent watching television (about 2.58 hours a day).

It is important to recognize that time allocation can differ significantly among subgroups within the civilian population. Consider, for instance, that the average workday for employed adults aged 25 to 54 with children was eight hours in 2005. This subgroup used significantly less time for sleeping (7.6 hours) and leisure (2.6 hours) than the civilian population as a whole, seemingly to compensate for the extra hours spent working.

ATUS data also provide information about the timing and location of certain activities. For instance, we can see how many people work on weekends or at home. It turns out that in 2003–05, about 32 percent of employed people worked on an average weekend day. Among those holding more than one job, 57 percent worked weekends. More interestingly, 18 percent of single-job holders aged 15 and older worked at home on the average work day. For multiple-job holders, this proportion is 32 percent. The proportions working at home are higher for self-employed workers (47 percent) and those with a bachelor’s degree or higher (33 percent).


1. ATUS data are collected for all segments of the population 15 and older for weekdays as well as weekends and holidays. Hence, an average day measures the average time allocation across all persons and days.[back]

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