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COVID-19 ISO Insights

How Have Americans Spent Their Time this Year?

September 8, 2021

By Travis Decaminada

Key Takeaway: The results of the 2020 American Time Use Survey Summary found that, on average, Americans are working less, traveling less, and socializing less, but were spending more time on leisure. These results highlight just how significantly the Covid-19 pandemic has changed how we spend our time.

 This month the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics released the results of their annual American Time Use Survey Summary (ATUSS) which, as the name implies, is a nationwide survey of Americans regarding how they’ve spent their time over the past year. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Covid-19 pandemic appears to have dramatically impacted said time use. Per the ATUSS, the number of Americans working from home nearly doubled in 2020, and the average time spent commuting decreased for all demographic groups - to name just a few impacts of the pandemic.

The ATUSS breaks time use down into several distinct categories including time spent working, traveling, on childcare, participating in leisure activities or on housework, socializing, and more.

Time Spent Working

Despite an increase in working from home, overall, time spent working decreased in 2020 by an average of 17 minutes per person, likely as a result of increased unemployment. Per the ATUSS, “On a given day in 2020, 39 percent of the population spent time working, compared with 43  percent of the population in 2019.” Relative to demographics, both men and women saw a dramatic increase in time spent working from home, and workers with higher levels of education were significantly more likely to have seen an increase working from home as well.

Time Spent Traveling

The amount of time Americans spent traveling in 2020 was significantly less than in 2019. For the average American, time spent traveling declined from 1.2 hours a day to 47 minutes per day. Further, the ATUSS goes on to explain that “The share of individuals who spent time traveling on a given day declined 17 percentage points in 2020, from 84 percent in 2019 to 67 percent in 2020.” Notably, travel time decreased for most, if not all, demographic groups in 2020.

Time Spent on Childcare

Reportedly, time spent on childcare did not change dramatically from 2019 to 2020, the average American still spends between 1.2 and 1.3 hours on childcare every day. The ATUSS explains why there was no increase despite the cancellation of schools and other activities as a result of Covid-19:

Fifty-three percent of adults living in households with children provided childcare on a given day in 2020, down from 61 percent in 2019. As in-person school, sports, and other activities were curtailed in 2020, individuals were less likely to spend time picking up and dropping off children, which are classified in the other childcare activities category. As a result, the share of adults engaging in other childcare activities on a given day fell by 13 percentage points in 2020 and contributed to the overall decline in the percent of adults providing childcare on a given day.

Time Spent on Leisure

Time spent participating in leisure activities increased in 2020. The average American now spends 5.5 hours a day on leisure activities, up 0.5 hours from 2019. The ATUSS adds that “This increase partly reflects a decline in average work time as the share of the population that was employed fell during the pandemic, as well as a decrease in the average time individuals spent traveling.” Watching TV was the most popular leisure activity in 2020, with the average person watching more than three hours of TV a day.

Time Spent Socializing

Americans spent less time socializing in 2020 than they did in 2019, likely due in part to social distancing requirements. On average, an American spends about 7 hours a day alone, up from 6.1 hours in 2019. Elderly people reportedly spend more time alone than do other demographic groups, and more, time spent caring for other people also markedly decreased in 2020.

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