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How the average American day has changed over the past decade

The average American sleeps 8.7 hours and watches 2.8 hours of TV each day. The ones who are employed put in an average 7.6 working hours a day.

Those are some of the findings of the Bureau of Labor Statistics’s American Time Use survey, which came out  Wednesday. There were some other interesting tidbits — workers with children spend about 4.5 hours on leisure activities daily, an hour less than their childless peers — but the portrait it paints is largely unchanged. Every year, BLS releases that rich set of data on how Americans spend time across a number of activities, sliced up in a number of different ways, but the basic takeaway is always the same: We spend most of our time working, sleeping and relaxing. (Sleep is a subcategory of “personal care activities” in the chart below.)


The average American day, 2013. (Niraj Chokshi)

So we decided to reach back a little further to see how Americans’ habits differed in 2013 from 2003, a time before the iPhone, YouTube, Twitter and what was at its launch called The Facebook. To be honest, not very much has changed.

Relatively, some changes were large. Americans who did homework or researched spent nearly 25 percent more time on those activities. Those who participated in organized religious or spiritual activities were spending 9 percent less time on that. And Americans who cared for or helped adults not in their household were spending 12 percent less time doing so in 2013 than 2003.

But in absolute terms, most of the differences were slight. The Americans doing homework or researching spent 3.1 hours a day doing so last year, up from 2.5 hours in 2003. The decline in time spent on religious or spiritual activities equates to a difference of just under 10 minutes. And the Americans caring for non-household adults spent 7.2 minutes less doing so last year from the decade before.

Here’s a look at how some selected activities have changed over the past decade:

Niraj Chokshi is a general assignment reporter for The Washington Post.

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