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How the typical American day has changed in the last 15 years

  • How the typical American day has changed in the past 15 years

    The United States today is different than it was in the early 2000s. We've pushed through a major recession, seen the end of boy bands, and elected the first African-American president. Those events aside, day-to-day life also has changed significantly.

    For instance, things like housework and shopping take less time for us to accomplish. Websites like Amazon and superstores like Walmart mean that if we choose to do so, we only have to visit one destination for everything on our lists—from groceries to cleaning products, from clothes to homewares. On the flip side, creating the processes, programs, and marketplaces that make our world more streamlined is time-consuming. As a result, Americans have started spending larger chunks of their days at work.

    The changes in a typical American day really come down to a generational shift. Millennials, those who were born between 1981 and 1997, came of age and became the largest living generation between 2003 and 2017, overtaking baby boomers. It's millennials' preferences, habits, and priorities that really affect how a typical American day looks now. Their numbers, more than anything else, affect the percentage of the population that participates in any given activity and how much time, on average, is spent on that activity.

    Stacker took a look at how the typical American day has changed based on data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' American Time Use Survey between 2003 and 2017 (updated in June 2018). We checked how (and why) everything from household management to work commutes is changing, ranking the categories in alphabetical order. Here, check out how Americans are spending their time these days.

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  • Household management

    2017
    - Average time spent on activity: 0.69 hours/day (-18.8% 15-year change)
    - Population engaged in activity: 18.7% (+19.9% 15-year change)

    2003
    - Average time spent on activity: 0.85 hours/day
    - Population engaged in activity: 15.6%

    One of the primary aspects of household management is finances, something Americans, in general, tend to struggle with. Establishing a budget and tracking finances can take a significant chunk of time. The private debt settlement company, National Debt Relief, reports that six out of 10 Americans spend without a budget, which may be a major contributor as to why household management costs dropped so much over the past 15 years.

  • Religious and spiritual activities

    2017
    - Average time spent on activity: 1.44 hours/day (-17.2% 15-year change)
    - Population engaged in activity: 9.3% (+14.8% 15-year change)

    2003
    - Average time spent on activity: 1.74 hours/day
    - Population engaged in activity: 8.1%

    Time for religious and spiritual activities includes how long Americans spend attending religious services and participating in religious practices, like prayer or meditation. According to the Pew Research Center, 76.5% of Americans reported believing in God and practicing some sort of religion. By 2017, the number of non-religious Americans had jumped from 26.5% to 33%. The decrease in the number of people who adhere to a religion and its practices may account for the drop in time the average American spends on religious and spiritual activities.

  • Interior maintenance, repair, and decoration

    2017
    - Average time spent on activity: 2.03 hours/day (-15.8% 15-year change)
    - Population engaged in activity: 2.8% (-28.2% 15-year change)

    2003
    - Average time spent on activity: 2.41 hours/day
    - Population engaged in activity: 3.9%

    With the rise of handyman platforms like TaskRabbit and Handy over the past 15 years, it's become far easier to find and vet people to handle our maintenance and repair tasks. Also, as American incomes rise, so does the American family's disposable income. These could be contributing factors to the fact that fewer Americans spend time on their own maintenance and repairs and choose instead to farm them out.

  • Health-related self care

    2017
    - Average time spent on activity: 1.18 hours/day (-15.7% 15-year change)
    - Population engaged in activity: 6.7% (+26.4% 15-year change)

    2003
    - Average time spent on activity: 1.40 hours/day
    - Population engaged in activity: 5.3%

    Americans avoiding the doctor's or dentist's office is nothing new, but things like burgeoning health care costs and more demanding work schedules have driven those in younger generations to spend even less time taking care of their health. Mental health treatment is the one area that actually has seen an increase, as more Americans than ever are seeking help and treatment for mental health issues.

  • Participating in sports, exercise, and recreation (includes related waiting and security)

    2017
    - Average time spent on activity: 1.51 hours/day (-10.1% 15-year change)
    - Population engaged in activity: 19.0% (+9.8% 15-year change)

    2003
    - Average time spent on activity: 1.68 hours/day
    - Population engaged in activity: 17.3%

    This time accounts for both playing sports, attending and watching sporting events, exercise, and other related recreational activities. Notably, by 2016 there had been a 160% increase in sports programming from 2005. As more channels air more sporting events, it makes it much easier for more Americans to spend time engaged in these activities each day.

  • Purchasing goods and services

    2017
    - Average time spent on activity: 1.64 hours/day (-7.3% 15-year change)
    - Population engaged in activity: 43.8% (-5.0% 15-year change)

    2003
    - Average time spent on activity: 1.77 hours/day
    - Population engaged in activity: 46.1%

    It's possible that the amount of time people spend purchasing goods and services each day is dropping because of the increase in marketplaces like Amazon. In 2003, Amazon was in the midst of its first profitable year; these days superstores and online marketplaces/apps are ubiquitous, making one-stop-shopping easier.

  • Exterior maintenance, repair, and decoration

    2017
    - Average time spent on activity: 1.95 hours/day (-7.1% 15-year change)
    - Population engaged in activity: 3.0% (-9.1% 15-year change)

    2003
    - Average time spent on activity: 2.10 hours/day
    - Population engaged in activity: 3.3%

    Like interior maintenance, repair, and decoration, fewer Americans are engaging in exterior repairs and maintenance because of limited personal time and the ease of finding people to do the work instead. In 2013, for example, Americans spent $310 billion on home improvements (including hiring handymen), a significant increase from the $40 million they spent in 2011.

  • Eating and drinking

    2017
    - Average time spent on activity: 1.24 hours/day (-6.1% 15-year change)
    - Population engaged in activity: 95.1% (+4.0% 15-year change)

    2003
    - Average time spent on activity: 1.32 hours/day
    - Population engaged in activity: 91.4%

    As obesity continues to rise in the United States, it seems surprising that the amount of time the average person spends eating and drinking each day is going down. The data show, however, that the difference lies more in the amount of time spent traveling (related to eating and drinking) rather than the acts of consumption. On average men spend more time (0.51 hours per day) in travel related to food and drink than women do (0.50 hours a day).

  • Socializing and communicating

    2017
    - Average time spent on activity: 1.84 hours/day (-5.2% 15-year change)
    - Population engaged in activity: 35.7% (-11.2% 15-year change)

    2003
    - Average time spent on activity: 1.94 hours/day
    - Population engaged in activity: 40.2%

    It's been proven time and again that smartphones affect the way we socialize and communicate. While smartphones are expanding our social networks, they tend to have negative effects on the depth and closeness of our relationships. They often are used as substitutes for in-person interactions, which could contribute to the decrease in time spent socializing and the number of Americans who do it daily.

  • Lawn and garden care

    2017
    - Average time spent on activity: 1.84 hours/day (-5.2% 15-year change)
    - Population engaged in activity: 9.7% (-4.9% 15-year change)

    2003
    - Average time spent on activity: 1.94 hours/day
    - Population engaged in activity: 10.2%

    According to recent data, more people rent their homes now than at any point in the past 50 years. While many of these homes have lawns and gardens that tenants are responsible for, many don't. This could be the reason for the drop in time Americans spent on lawn and garden care in 2017 compared with 2003.