How Americans Spend Their Days -- Read It, If You're Not Too Busy Sleeping

Here are The Results of the 2003 American Time Use Survey

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Do you get 8.5 hours of sleep every night? If not, you are falling short of the rest of America. You should be sleeping more, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which released an initial look at the results of 2003 American Time Use Survey (ATUS) on September 14th. The results of this survey were originally scheduled to be released in the middle of the summer, but compiling the data took longer than expected. Although the results were released late (maybe the people at the Bureau of Labor were helping to increase the hours of sleep average) they offer an extremely interesting look at the day-to-day activities of Americans.

The ATUS is the first ever study that a federal statistics agency has performed on American activities and the amount of time they are spending doing them. The BLS' reasoning for performing such a study was its interest in how people's jobs fit into their daily lives. How much time are they spending at work? Where are they working? How long they are spending getting to their jobs or how often they are working at home? And, how much time are they spending outside of their jobs doing leisure activities or spending time with their families? These are some of the questions the BLS aims to answer with the survey. The survey is a groundbreaking step for the BLS and government statistics agencies, as a whole, as it begins to move from the traditional areas of record (such as size and make-up of the population) and begins to move into the marketing and consumer intelligence side of research that research groups such as Nielsen, Mediamark or Simmons have been tracking for years. The data from the ATUS is much more general than the information from these private researchers (it does not look at the brands of cereal that parents are feeding their children, it looks at how much time parents are spending feeding their children) and offers an overall view of the average American's daily life.

To perform the survey, the BLS used a diary method to collect the data, similar to Nielsen and Arbitron's viewing and listening diaries that they send out to respondents. The respondents to the ATUS were instructed to report their activities for a 24-hour period from 4 a.m. until 4 a.m. If the respondent was doing two activities at once, they were asked to mark which was the primary activity. After the activity information was collected, the ATUS categorized all of the different responses for analysis.

Using the data it collected, the ATUS also put together what it felt was the "average day" of an American. This day consists of 8.6 hours of sleeping, 5.1 hours of sports or leisure activities, 3.7 hours of work, and 1.8 hours of household activates. The remaining 4.8 hours were spent doing a range of possible activities like eating and drinking, going to school, or shopping. Another figure that is of interest is the amount of TV people watch during a day. As a whole, the ATUS estimates that the average American spends about 2.6 hours a day watching television. Television represented the most time of any leisure activity for Americans, accounting for about half of the leisure time spent by both men and women.

The release focused on four main areas of American life: work, household activities, childcare activities and leisure. Beyond the "average day" the ATUS pointed some of the comparative data that it felt was most interesting included the finding that working men work about an hour more per day than working women. On the other hand, working women spend about an hour more per day doing household activities than working men. One in five working people do some or all of their work at home on the days they worked. And, the households without children spend almost 1.5 hours more per day doing leisure or sports activities than those without children. These statistics are just a sampling of the hundreds of pieces of data that give interesting insight into the daily lives of Americans, and American Demographics will continue to look into these results in the following weeks and months.

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