Interactive Monday - How Americans Spend Their Time

Oct 08, 2018
Interactive, Chart of the Week, Article

 Today’s Interactive Monday comes to us from Flowing Data’s Nathan Yau in a three part series using the 2014 American Time Use Survey to explore how we spend our days and nights.  Since 2003 the Census Bureau has been asking thousands of Americans to report on their time use for one 24 hour period.  

How many hours did you spend socializing chart

The Data Set

Yau approaches the data set by sorting out how much time is spent in each activity, exploring how age, sex, and time of day influence our activities, and showing off our transitions from one activity to another throughout the day.  Today we're going to focus on his first post, Counting the Hours. There’s a few things to know about the survey before we dive deep into the numbers:

  • Only those age 15 and up were counted in the survey.
  • Survey participants recalled their time spent from 4 am one day to the next.  As the author notes, the use of “peoples’ memory to measure time use” introduces some bias and uncertainty into the data set.
  • The data comes from a survey rather than a census.  That survey has been weighted to better reflect our national demographics.  So if, for example, a disproportionate number of survey responses came from retirees, those responses will be weighted more lightly to reflect the comparatively smaller proportion of retirees in the population

How We Use Our Time Activity

Use the Census Bureau’s survey as an opportunity to discuss data collection and why the Census Bureau may have chosen to gather the data in a certain way or include only certain groups in their data set.  Have your students design a class-survey (about time use, personal finance, or another aspect of their lives) and give them the challenge of analyzing, interpreting, and sharing their results.


How much time do you spend at work

Counting the Hours

Counting the Hours examines how much time Americans spend on 8 common activities, like working, sleeping, and travelling.  Each chart shows what percentage of people spend a particular number of hours in one activity. The slider on the left shows the percentile rank for a particular time spent but does not include people who did not do the activity at all, also listed on the left.


How Many Hours Think-Pair-Share

Divide and conquer the 8 activity charts found in the blog post with your students’ help.  Consider how you want to organize your students. Here are a few questions to get you started:  

  • Will you assign them an activity chart or will they pick their own?  
  • Will they work solo, in pairs, or in a small group?
  • Will they share out, record their answers, discuss in their group, or maybe all of the above?

And here are some questions your students will want to consider about their assigned activity:

  • Where do you fall on the chart personally?  Do most people do the activity more than you, less, or about the same?  What factors might explain your percentile rank in that activity?
  • What percentage of people engaged in that activity?  Are you surprised by the answer? Why or why not?
  • Try describing the relationship between time and the percentages on your activity chart.  What trends did you notice?

We’ll be back with more Interactive Monday next week, where we’ll explore the most common use of time by age and sex.

About the Author

Greg Livingston

Greg comes to us from a big Canadian family full of passionate educators: the joy of teaching and learning has always been an important part of his experience. He saw first hand the need for personal finance education after having his student research careers and create a budget in his computers class. His students would not stop telling him how important this project was, even years later. Greg brings his unique experience designing and managing online learning communities for Columbia University, Connected Camps, and others to the Next Gen team. He is excited to connect with great teachers and support them in their challenging and rewarding work. Greg is a proud jack of all trades - outside of work he likes to play soccer and hockey, make music, read old books, and explore the great outdoors.