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The Biggest Changes in How Americans Spend Their Time

Looking back at 2005, it’s amazing to see how much the world has changed. Facebook was still in its infancy, iPhones didn’t yet exist and dial-up was still clinging to a dominant market share of the internet industry. In light of the seismic shift in how we interact with technology (and each other), we at SmartAsset were curious about whether the ways in which Americans use their time may have changed over the past decade.

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The Bureau of Labor Statistics releases an annual Time Use survey, so using that data, we’re shedding light on the biggest changes in how Americans used their time in 2005 as compared to 2015. In order to understand where we got our data and how we came up with our results, read the data and methodology below.

Key Findings

  • More shut-eye. The United States is one of the hardest working countries in the world, and often work gets in the way of a proper night’s sleep. But in 2015, Americans were sleeping almost 15 minutes more per night than in 2005.
  • Study sessions. The modern job seeker is the most educated of all time. With low-skill jobs no longer being as available to Americans as they once were, many are responding by getting college degrees. Our data shows that Americans are using 21% more time doing homework and research and 7% more time on educational activities.
  • Golden Age of television. Along with sleep, Americans are spending 7.75% more time watching TV. That equates to 12 extra minutes per day. Time spent on leisure activities, including sports and personal time on the internet, has also risen.
  • Less time on the road. In every category we analyzed, the time spent traveling to and from activities went down over the decade. That includes commuting to work, traveling for leisure and sports, travel for eating and drinking and travel related to shopping.

The Biggest Changes in How Americans Use Their Time

1. Homework and research

As mentioned earlier Americans are spending 21.43% more time on their education. It should be noted that this only represents a change of 2 minutes. In 2005 Americans spent around 8 minutes per day doing homework and research, while in 2015 that increased to 10 minutes.

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2. Caring for and helping nonhousehold members

Americans spent 3 minutes less per day caring for and helping nonhousehold members in 2015 than they did in 2005. This category is distinct from volunteering (which saw no time change) and instead refers to helping children or adults who don’t live in one’s household. Americans also spent around 2 minutes less caring for and helping household members.

3. Food preparation and cleanup

Maybe we’ve all discovered our inner foodie or realized we’re spending too much on eating out. Either way, Americans spent 17 percent more time on food preparation last year than in 2005. Men are the leading cause of the uptick in this category. They went from spending around 15.6 minutes on food prep and cleanup per day in 2005 to 21 minutes per day in 2015. Women do the lion’s share when it comes to this though. According to our data, women spend almost 50 minutes per day on this activity.

4. Travel for leisure and sports

In general time spent traveling is down. And traveling specifically related to leisure and sports, which includes things like driving to a football game or heading to yoga class, is part of this trend. In 2005 Americans spent 15 minutes per day on average on this activity. In 2015 it had dipped to 12.6 minutes.

5. Religious and spiritual activity

Time spent on religious and spiritual activity is up over the past decade. Overall Americans spent 15% more time on spiritual activities in 2015 than they did in 2005. This equals an increase of about 1.2 minutes per day.

6. Household management

Americans averaged 9 minutes per day on household management in 2005. That number dropped to below 8 minutes in 2015, equaling a 13% decrease over the decade.

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7. Consumer goods purchases

Americans spend more time shopping for consumer goods than you may expect. In 2005 we spent a little less than 25 minutes per day shopping for consumer goods. By 2015 that dropped over 12% to 21.6 minutes.

Related article: How to Stop Spending Money Carelessly

8. Telephone calls, mail and email

The change in this category came exclusively from women. Men spent the exact same amount of time on telephone calls, mail and email in 2015 as they did a decade ago. Women, on the other hand, went from around 14 minutes per day on this activity in 2005 to 12 minutes in 2015.

9. Social events

Are we less social than we were 10 years ago? Maybe so. Time spent at social events dropped 9.3% over the decade, to a still-respectable 40.8 minutes per day in 2015.

10. Grocery shopping

In contrast to food preparation, time spent on grocery shopping fell 9% over the decade, to an average of 6 minutes per day in 2015.

Other Interesting Findings

Watching TV. Although watching TV did not crack the top 10, it’s a category many would be curious about. According to the BLS data, the average American over the age of 15 watched 155 minutes of TV per day in 2005 and 167 minutes per day in 2015. This means that the average American increased their TV watching by 12 minutes per day or an extra 73 hours per year – which is slightly more than three whole days of nothing but watching TV.

Sleep. Sleep, like watching TV, didn’t make it into the top 10 but since it’s the single activity we spend the most time on it’s worth delving into the data. In 2005 the average American spent around 517 minutes or 8 hours and 37 minutes per day asleep. This number rose to around 530 minutes or about 8 hours and 50 minutes per day in 2015. That means that over the whole year, the average American got an extra three days of sleep compared to 2005.

Working. This may come as a surprise to some: Time spent working dropped from an average of 201.6 minutes per day to an average of 194 minutes per day. Extrapolating that figure out over a whole year shows that the average American spent 2.5 days less working in 2015 than they did in 2005.

Data and Methodology

The data and categories are taken from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 2005 and 2015 Time Use Surveys. In order to determine the biggest changes, we analyzed the percent change in each category from 2005 to 2015.

Any activity which took up less than 10% of an hour, or 6 minutes, was left out of the final table in order to highlight changes in the activities which Americans use the most time on. Uncategorized topics like “other” have also been removed from our final table. We have also changed the wording on a few category names to make them more understandable.

For its surveys, the BLS interviews Americans age 15 and up, so all mentions of average Americans means Americans over age 14.

Questions? Contact us at press@smartasset.com.

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/ismagilov

Derek Miller, CEPF® Derek Miller is a graduate of the University of Edinburgh where he studied economics. He is passionate about using data to help people make better financial decisions. Derek is a Certified Educator in Personal Finance® (CEPF®) and a member of the Society of American Business Editors and Writers. He is a data journalist whose expertise is in finding the stories within the numbers. Derek's writing has been featured on Yahoo, AOL, and Huffington Post. He believes the biggest financial mistake people make is waiting too late to save for retirement and missing out on the wonders of compounding interest. Derek lives in Brooklyn.
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