Americans spend their time in many ways but what about work?

I spend a bunch of MY time sleeping.

As you can see, I spend a bunch of MY time sleeping.

I’m a college student. The one thing all college students want is more time. To be fair, that’s what most people want. So how do all of us spend our time?

Thankfully, the Bureau of Labor Statistics recently released the results of their American Time Use 2013 survey (yes, I examine BLS stats for fun). A lot of cool information is in there, but the one that really caught my eye was the breakdown of time spent on primary activities.

Off to the spreadsheets I went. I found some numbers that made sense, and some that needed further inspection. Particularly, the stats about time spent working warranted a further look.

time spent graphic

What jumps out is that just three categories dominate Americans’ days. Sleeping, leisure, and work accounted for a little over ¾ of the available 24 hours. The sleep number makes sense. It’s widely stated that people spend a third of their lives sleeping. Leisure and sports is understandable, especially when thinking about the weekend as well. However, the time spent working was only 3.46 hours on average. For someone who is used to the world of 9 to 5 jobs, I expected at least twice that.

The working numbers intrigued me most. There were several reasons that could have accounted for such a low number. For one, the age groups of 15-19 years, 65-74 years, and 75+ years also depressed the numbers pretty substantially, checking in with figures of 1.05, 1.15, and 0.39 hours respectively. Of course, 15-19 years represents high school students and early college students, not exactly a population segment that’s actively working in general. The two population groups above the age of 65 are probably retired and senior citizens.

When thinking about the effects of part-time jobs, unemployment, weekends, and various population segments though, a clearer picture can be formed. The next step then is breaking it down demographically.

time spent working graphic

For starters, the age range of 35-44 years was chosen because that was the peak of the working time numbers for the total population. The first thing that we can see is the large disparity between working times for men and women. The men as a whole are at 5.88 hours, which is much closer to my originally expected 7 or 8-hour workday. It would be reasonable to align this with the thoughts that, even though women in the workforce have made major strides in recent years, men still dominate many industries while the perception of women as homemakers hasn’t fully disappeared.

Other interesting things to note are the differences across race. For men, Hispanic men clocked in the highest working time, at 4.59 hours, while for women, African American women edged out Caucasian women, at 2.89 hours. One thing to keep in mind is that more time spent working doesn’t have to equate to better jobs; it could be a product of necessity and working multiple jobs. Cultural values for men and women can also help explain some of the differences. Across the categories, it stands to reason as well that certain population groups have more difficult access to certain job opportunities and education opportunities. That means education is the next component to explore.

working by education graphic

It makes a lot of sense that as education level increases, so does the hours spent working. This is probably due to the working opportunities available in general to people with better formal education. As you climb that ladder, you end up working more hours. That also correlates well with the trend of unemployment rates that decrease as the time spent working increases. Unemployment does definitely lower the averages for hours worked.

By parsing through the stats below the surface, you gain a more complete understanding of what leads to such a low face value amount of hours worked. It is important to go through the demographics and education levels. It is important to distinguish age groups. Ultimately, not all population segments are equal. Not all people who do work are equal.

“Your workforce is your most valuable asset,” says Harvey Mackay, entrepreneur and best-selling author. “The knowledge and skills they have represent the fuel that drives the engine of business – and you can leverage that knowledge.”

 


[1] http://www.bls.gov/news.release/atus.t03.htm

[2] http://www.bls.gov/news.release/empsit.t04.htm

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