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Work and play: What do Americans do all day?

September 2015

There are many ways to pass the hours: working, cleaning, sleeping. But how do people really spend their time?

Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) show what Americans ages 15 and over did on an average day in 2014. As the chart shows, we spent about 3½ hours per day working. Leisure activities, such as watching television and exercising, accounted for another 5¼ hours. More than one-third of the day, over 9½ hours, involved personal care—including sleep. If any of these data seem surprising, remember that these are the averages of all people over 15 years old reporting what they did on weekends as well as weekdays.

Time use differs by age, however. (To see age group comparisons by activity, click on a bar in the chart.) For example, people ages 15 to 19 spent about 15 minutes caring for and helping household members, which was roughly twice as long as people ages 75 and over spent on the same activity. But those 75 years and over spent more than 2 hours on household activities—including cooking, lawn care, and cleaning—which was triple the 40 minutes that those ages 15 to 19 did. Both groups spent about the same amount of time eating and drinking (less than 1½ hours) and on telephone calls, mail, and email (about one-quarter of an hour).

People ages 15 to 19 spent more time than any other age group on educational activities (nearly 3 hours), people 25 to 44 worked the longest (just under 5 hours), and people 65 and over spent the most time doing organizational, civic, and religious activities, such as volunteering or attending church services. People in the 75-and-older group led those in other age groups in leisure activities with 8 hours, well above the average of 5.3 hours. 

The source of these data is the American Time Use Survey, an annual BLS survey. The survey also provides data by sex, employment status, and household composition of respondent, as well as other characteristics.

Suggested citation:

"Work and play: What do Americans do all day?," Career Outlook, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, September 2015.

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