The last thing Americans do before bed, and more!

This week’s data sets include job-hopping, the last thing we do before bed, children’s birthplaces and a pronunciation question we can’t answer

Johnae Strong helps her 6-year-old daughter Jari Alim brush her teeth in February in Chicago. (AP Photo/Erin Hooley)
7 min

How do most Americans wind down before going to sleep? They watch television.

That’s been true since at least the 1970s, when the boob tube overtook the toothpaste tube (and other personal grooming) to become our most common pre-bed activity, according to our analysis of time diaries collected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ American Time Use Survey and, for the longer-run statistics, the American Heritage Time Use Study from IPUMS and the Center for Time Use Research. And the TV screen is still the last thing 2 in 5 of us see before we close our eyes.

Personal grooming and washing takes second place: It’s the final activity for about 1 out of 5 of us — and has actually regained ground recently, according to our analysis of the diaries, in which thousands of Americans report everything they did in every minute of a given day, from “fundraising” to “watching billiards” to “tobacco and drug use.” The diaries offer a host of insights into American behavior — including what each person was doing the minute before the sandman entered.

After television and grooming, things get complicated. Reading has long held third place, with 6 to 7 percent of us reading ourselves to sleep nightly in any given year. But in 2020 and 2021, reading ran neck and neck with using the computer and/or playing games before bed, a combo that has more than doubled in popularity since 2010.

And for reading, the writing is on the wall. Middle-aged and older Americans are still readers rather than gamers, but Americans ages 15 to 19 are more than four times as likely to use a computer or play games as they are to read before bed.

Television watching, for the record, peaks between ages 60 and 74, when about 47 percent of us watch TV before bed, compared with just 27.5 percent of the youngsters.

Among Americans who are more educated, reading rises and television falls. The most educated Americans are also the most likely to work directly before sleeping, though those unlucky few still make up a tiny share overall. (Note that we restricted our analysis to the last act before a day-ending sleep. If we’d included naps, then working, eating and drinking would have been more popular pre-sleep activities.)

The highest-turnover jobs and biggest job-hoppers

Remember the “Great Resignation?” Job-hopping millennials and zoomers? Well, it’s all surprisingly hard to find in federal data, which shows workers — especially young ones — leaving their jobs no earlier than they used to.

The typical American worker had been on the job for 4.1 years as of 2022, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which asks workers every other January how long they have been with their current employer. That’s unchanged from January 2020 — and it’s longer than most folks stuck around in the 1980s or 1990s.

To be sure, time spent with current employer has fallen since its peak in 2012, immediately after the Great Recession. It soared back then because workers with less experience had been laid off, and those who survived didn’t exactly have a ton of offers to jump ship.

As the economy improved, workers started job-hopping again. The biggest job switchers were workers in their prime, folks ages 35 to 55. In January 2016, the typical worker between the ages of 45 and 54 had spent 7.9 years with their current employer. By January 2022, those workers had spent only 6.9 years on the jobthe lowest ever recorded for that age group.

The pandemic does appear to have shaken loose some older and longer-serving workers. Turnover in federal government jobs and at the nation’s utilities hit their highest levels in at least a decade. Same for transportation and warehousing, a sector that has been transformed by online shopping and the related boom in high-churn warehouses. Jobs in motion pictures and sound recording saw the highest turnover of any group as they were gutted by pandemic lockdowns.

But even as veteran workers jumped jobs more often, folks under age 34 — a group that includes zoomers and all but the oldest millennials — tended to stay put. Their typical time with each employer has been steady since 2016.

Education doesn’t seem to have that much to do with how long you stay in your job: The typical worker with a doctorate or professional degree sticks around only a year longer than the friend who never graduated from high school.

Department of Data
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In the 1980s and 1990s, Americans who stayed longest at their jobs were in what we now think of as the Rust Belt. By the 2010s, that locus had shifted to the aging Northeast: States with older residents, of course, tend to have more folks who have been at their jobs longer.

What is a birthplace, anyway?

My first daughter was born when I was living in D.C., and was delivered in a hospital in D.C. My second daughter was born when I was living in Maryland, but was born in the same hospital in D.C. In your column on marriages, does that mean she was born in D.C. or born in Maryland?

— Andy Gefen, Bethesda, Md.

Many of the best questions have unspectacular answers, and that’s the case here: Your daughter was born wherever you say she was!

For each member of your household, the American Community Survey asks: “Where was this person born?” And you can write whatever you want in response to prompts that ask for a specific state or country.

Because we have the data, we couldn’t resist running the numbers. And we’re happy to report that your situation is not unusual, according to our analysis of the Census Bureau numbers.

Over the past decade, the most common out-of-state birthplace given for Maryland children was, of course, Washington, D.C. And the relationship goes both ways: The most common outside birthplace given for children living in the District was Maryland.

Best question we can’t answer

How do most Americans pronounce “data”? Is it day-tuh or dad-uh? Does the pronunciation differ regionally?

Bill O’Brian, Arlington, Va.

You’d think data on data would be right in our wheelhouse! But we aren’t aware of a source that might address this, and our efforts to search for data on the pronunciation of data have run into predictable search-engine-optimization issues. Anyone have a lead?

Here at department headquarters, where that single word dominates our vocabulary, we often switch it up from sentence to sentence to keep our lips limber. But in official communications, we ask that you sound out our letterhead as the pleasingly ponderous (and possibly paternalistic) Department of DAD-uh.

Hi friends! The Department of Data wants to help you measure stuff. What are you curious about: Do people become more or less religious as they age? Is there a way to track mail-order brides? The largest sports stadiums in the world? The number of homes that sell outside of the MLS? States with the smallest lot sizes? Just ask!

If your question inspires a column, we’ll send an official Department of Data button and ID card. To get every question, answer and factoid in your inbox as soon as we publish, sign up here. This week’s buttons go to local readers Andy and Bill, and to American University economist Gray Kimbrough, whose early analyses of job-hopping and video game use helped inspire this column.