This is part one of a series on how Americans live.

The US Labor Department released the 2011 Time Use Survey on June 22. You are welcome to replicate results using the data files* to mix and mash.

In 2011, each day, at the highest aggregated level, on average, an American spends:

  • 8.7 hours sleeping¬†
  • 3.57 hours working¬†
  • 2.75 hours watching TV
  • 1.24 hours eating and drinking
  • 43 minutes buying goods and services¬†
  • 42 minutes socializing and communicating
  • 34 minutes preparing food
  • 18 minutes exercising, playing sports, and recreating
  • 10 minutes on telephone calls, mail, and email
  • 7 minutes on leisure computer use (excluding games)

Focus on the drop off. It’s not in a stacked bar chart so you can see without squinting.

Do you see the drop off?

The figures presented above ought to cause you to pause:

  • They very likely do not agree with your own life
  • They don’t describe your own life consistently
  • A few figures conflict with what you know from other sources

And that’s what this series is going to be about. It’s going to be about why the figures above do not match your experience, what that means for understanding how Americans live, and the importance of what they don’t see.

Please, do not go around quoting these figures without understanding their origin or meaning.

[*There are two main data files that are of particular interest – the activity file and the activity summary file. A faster way of getting at the codex is to rename the .sps file as a .txt and open it with a text editor. In that way, you get a direct 1:1 connection between the .dat and the variables names. Load it into R or SPSS as you would normally. The activity summary file contains ~284,000 individual records, the summary file contains ~12,479 summaries on individuals. Note that there are as many records from the weekend as there are from weekdays – as weekends are deliberately oversampled to do weekday/weekend comparisons, so, you will most certainly want to adjust either your data frame or run a split in SPSS. Enjoy!]


I’m Christopher Berry.
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