Understanding how Americans live has a lot to do with understanding what they do.

Or more specifically, what they remember about doing and how it’s recorded.

The following fact from the 2011 Time Use Study (ATUS) should cause some anxiety.

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

  • 3.57 hours working”

How does the US Bureau of Labor know?

What if you called 12,479 people randomly on random days and asked them what they did yesterday?

That’s pretty much how it’s done.

Every day, with a few exceptions (the call center took the day after Christmas off in 2011. The bureau also has no data about New Year’s Day 2007, Christmas Day 2008, and July 4, 2010), a random sample of people from the Current Population Survey (CPS) are called. They’re asked about how they spent the previous day, between 4 a.m. until 4 a.m., and, they’re asked about how long each activity lasted.

Respondents describe their day in sequence and duration.

The researchers categorize the responses.

3.57 hours working

To get an idea of why average skew, let’s look at the the number of hours that people reported working.

Not everybody is employed, not everybody works, and not everybody works on the weekends.

  • Of those who worked (44.6% of everybody 15 and older), they worked an average of 7.99 hours
  • Of Men who worked (50.4% of every man 15 and older), they worked an average of 8.39 hours
  • Of Women who worked (39.2% of every woman 15 and older), they worked an average of 7.52 hours

In other words, if you work, and they happened to call you on a day that you worked, on average, you worked the predictable 8 hours, including all the other activities associated with working.

The 3.57 figure is representative of everybody of working age and beyond, but not representative when we specify a segment of the population. In other words, the 3.57 hour average figure is representative of everybody, but not representative of those who have work.

Those who work in America, work a lot.

[*The coding ATUS rule book can be found here.]


I’m Christopher Berry.
Follow me @cjpberry
I blog at christopherberry.ca