The typical American spends nearly as much time watching TV (2 hours 46 minutes) as working (3 hours 31 minutes) on any given day. Americans spend nearly twice as much time buying stuff (45 minutes) as on child care (24 minutes).
I can't stress enough that these numbers are statistical averages. There are very few, if any, actual people whose day looks like the one above. But, if you took literally every single person in America age 15 or older, including students and retirees and workers and the like, asked them how they spent their time in a typical day, and averaged all of those numbers together, that's what that mythical "average day" would look like.
For a typical employed person with a full-time job and some kids, some of those numbers can look downright fantastical: nearly 9 hours of sleep? I looked into this a few years ago. The BLS's sleep number factors in things such as naps. It includes folks such as retirees, teens and college students, who tend to sleep a lot more than the rest of us.
A BLS economist also told me that those numbers include a number of "non-sleep activities" that people do in bed before they fall asleep, such as reading, browsing the Internet, or, you know — other stuff.
Similar with the number on hours spent working: That 3 hours 31 minutes figure includes people with and without job, and it factors in time on weekends (when most people aren't working) as well as time on weekdays. If you were to filter that number down to count only people employed full time and only on weekdays, you'd get a number closer to 9 hours.
Because the BLS has been running its Time Use Survey for more than a decade, you can track these figures over time to get some sense of how the American life is changing. The chart below shows the percent change in time spent on the main activity categories since 2005.
Americans are spending 8 percent more time watching TV than they did 10 years ago, or 12 more minutes a day. Conversely, they are spending 5 percent less time working — or roughly 11 minutes, almost the exact same amount as the increase in TV-watching time.
Indeed, one interesting finding from the survey is that if current trends continue, Americans will soon spend, on average, just as much time watching TV as they do working. In 2005, for instance, for every 10 hours Americans worked, they spent a little less than 7 hours watching TV.
By last year, though, Americans watched nearly 8 hours of TV for every 10 hours they worked. Or 48 minutes of TV for every hour of work.
Changes to the labor force in the wake of the Great Recession are one big reason for this shift. As Liana Sayer, director of the Time Use Laboratory at the University of Maryland, told the Wall Street Journal last week, "Individuals who are out of the labor force, either because they’re discouraged from finding a job or are in poor health, are sleeping more and reducing the overall time Americans work."
Indeed, while the average American slept for 8 hours and 37 minutes a day in 2005, he or she sleeps 8 hours and 49 minutes a day today — a 12-minute jump.