How Americans spend their day – with a lot of TV

We spend about as much time watching TV as we do working, according to Department of Labor data

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How do Americans spend their day?

According to data from the Department of Labor’s American Time Use Survey, we sleep, we work, and we watch TV – more or less in that order.

And we shop. What time we have left over, we spend on eating, socializing, and housework. The activities that get the least amount of time from the average American?  Caregiving, working out and community activities.

Consumer app developer Retale‘s new data visualization tool, Busy States of America, lets you see how the government’s data looks, in real-time, as Americans go about their day. You can also see how Americans spend their time depending on age and gender.  Some interesting factoids:

  • By 10 a.m., 30 percent of Americans are working. By 9 p.m., 35 percent are watching TV. Moreover, older Americans, not young ones, actually watch the most TV – at peak times, more than 52 percent of Americans 75+ are tuned in.
  • The average American spends 45 minutes a day shopping and making purchases.
  • Not surprisingly, women spend more time on household tasks (cleaning, maintenance, etc.) than men. On average, women spend 2 hours, 11 minutes per day on these tasks, versus 1 hour and 20 minutes for men.
  • Women also spend twice as much time caring for household members  as men do (41 minutes a day on average for women versus 22 minutes for men), although neither sex spends as much time as you might think on caregiving.
  • Americans spend an average of just 18 minutes a day on “fitness” and 19 minutes a day on community activities, such as volunteering.


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While these data, from the Department of Labor’s long-running American Time Use survey, have been out there for a while,  the advent of novel data visualization techniques makes it easier for policymakers to discern new patterns and, perhaps, counterintuitive insights that challenge long-held assumptions.

The data from the survey also points to potential areas of focus for policymakers. For example, while Americans may think of themselves as heavily community and civic-minded, the data show that community activities are a relatively low priority for most Americans.

And if there’s any doubt what consumes the greater part of Americans’ time and culture, the answer is clear: television.