How Americans Spend Time at Home
and How It's Changed Over Time

By: House Method

As Jane Austen so plainly and rightly put it, “there is nothing like staying home for real comfort.” It’s true. For many of us, few things can beat the ease and comfort of being at home. But far from simply being a place of rest and refreshment, our homes tend to function as the main hub of our lives, the home base from which all the activities of our daily lives flow—and to which they return each evening.

Home is where we go to eat, sleep, prepare for busy days, and decompress once those busy days are done. But of course, those aren’t the only things we do in our homes. From housework and childcare to hobbies and games, our homes set the stage for a broad range of activities and pursuits.

To learn more about how Americans spend time in the home—and how that’s changed over the years—we analyzed data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ American Time Use Survey.

The time you spend at home

When it comes to time spent at home, there are two broad categories into which each of the individual activities we looked at fall: housework and leisure time. While this should come as no surprise, we also found that Americans devote a much longer period of time, on average, to each of the individual leisure activities than they do to individual household tasks.

While Americans spent an average of 25 hours each month per household chore, from cleaning and yard maintenance to cooking and childcare, leisure activities (like reading, watching TV, and playing games) accounted for an average of 47 hours each month. Of course, it’s likely that most Americans tackle several household chores per day, leaving less room for multiple leisure activities on the docket. In addition, many of the activities we looked at are ripe for multi-tasking, such as cooking and listening to the radio.

So, how exactly do Americans spend the majority of their time at home? To begin, we looked at how many hours per mont, on average, Americans devoted to each of the activities we included in our study.

In the housework category, lawn, garden, and houseplant care topped the list at 48 hours per month, while interior cleaning (37 hours per month) and financial management (27 hours per month) were next in line on days they are included on the to-do list. Perhaps surprisingly (especially to those of us with young kids), Americans reported spending an average of only 22 hours each month caring for and helping children. Though once you factor in that children in the home are participating in activities like reading, arts and crafts, TV watching, playing games, exercising, and—for those with older children—cleaning, laundry, and household organization, that number increases significantly.

Meanwhile, food and drink preparation accounted for just 16 hours each month (31 minutes per day)—a task that would have taken Americans of just two generations ago a significant chunk of the day. The relatively short amount of time devoted to cooking almost certainly reflects not only the ease of modern cooking, but also a reduced interest in (and need for) cooking, with Americans eating out and relying on convenience foods more than ever before. In fact, as of 2016, Americans spend more on restaurants than they do on groceries.

Perhaps less time cooking means more time spent relaxing. When it comes to leisure, it likely won’t come as a shock that television (at 56 hours/month, 112 minutes/day) comprises one of the largest categories in terms of time spent, signifying TV’s ongoing dominance as the modern American pastime (sorry, baseball). On the other hand, it may surprise you to learn that the writerly types among us spend about the same amount of time (57 hours/month, 113 minutes per day) writing for pleasure. In a similar vein, we learned that people who preferred to engage in hobbies in their spare time (including arts and crafts) spent about 110 minutes each day using the power of those talents to unwind.

Time spent at home, by generation and gender

To get an even better understanding of how Americans spend their time, we took a look at how folks invest time in these everyday activities by gender and generation.

With only a few exceptions, we found that men likely spend more time overall relaxing than women. According to our research, men devoted more time than women to watching TV each day (119 minutes for men versus 105 minutes for women), making arts and crafts (123 versus 99), playing games (109 versus 78), using the computer for leisure (83 versus 69), and relaxing/thinking (92 versus 78).

In contrast, women spend more time caring for children (49 minutes for women versus 34 minutes for men). However, our data suggests that in other areas—for example, laundry and pet care—men share the load fairly equally with women, while some chores, like yard work and financial management, seem to take up more space on the to-do lists of men than women based on average time spent.

Our analysis also revealed gaps in how people of different ages preferred to spend their home time. For example, time spent watching TV decreased with each younger generation, with the oldest group included in our study (the Silent Generation, or those born between 1925 and 1942) averaging 128 minutes compared with just 98 minutes for members of the youngest group (Gen Z, or those born after 2000).

This pattern may reflect at least two different trends: first, the retired members of the Silent Generation likely have much more free time to devote to leisure activities like TV, and second, the younger generations likely spend more time participating in new new media, like social media, blogs, and online news outlets, thus reducing time spent watching television.

The impact of parenthood and relationship status on home activities

As you might expect, the amount of time men and women commit to specific household activities and hobbies tends to shift as relationships change and families grow. But it might surprise you to learn that, according to our research, relationship and family status doesn’t significantly change the amount of time allocated to most common activities. However, there are a few key differences worth noting.

With marriage comes a step up in responsibility. Perhaps that’s why married Americans (and those who are divorced) spend about 20% more time, on average, managing their finances than never-married singletons. Likewise, married Americans reported spending a little less time than both single and divorced people simply relaxing or thinking.

Of course, as everyone knows, having children is a game-changer in more ways than one. Naturally, for parents, a new daily activity emerges: childcare. Based on our research, those with children in the home spend roughly 42 minutes every day keeping up with their kids. However, this is the figure reported regarding time spent solely on child care. Child care also factors into activities like crafts, games, exercising with pets, TV watching, household organization, and more.

While this number is likely much higher for parents of babies and very young children (and even more so for stay-at-home parents), parents of children in daycare, or older children who go to school and engage in after-school activities, likely bring the overall average down. Regardless of how much time an individual parent spends on childcare each day, one thing is almost certain: having children reduces the opportunity to invest in other recreational activities quite so freely as life before kids. Overall, however, our study showed that parents engage in many of the same activities at nearly the same rates as non-parents, with the main difference being that parents spend 17% less time relaxing or thinking.

Time spent reading versus watching TV, by state

While we found that folks watching TV tended to engage in longer sessions, on average, than those who read for personal pleasure (112 minutes watching TV versus 67 minutes reading), both remain popular leisure pastimes.

We identified which states are more strongly drawn to TV versus reading. In both Nevada and South Dakota, people who spent time reading were nearly as invested in their books as people who watched TV—spending an average of 10 minutes more watching TV than reading. In contrast, people from states like Alaska, Kansas, and Arkansas spent twice as much time (or more) watching television than reading. Regardless, not one state reported spending more time reading, on average, than watching TV.  

As the data suggests, TV is a much more popular pastime than reading, regardless of geographic location. In fact, this troubling Medical Daily article reports that the average American home now has just under three television sets (a 43 percent uptick since 1990), while an estimated 42 percent of college graduates may never read another book after graduation day.

Time spent relaxing, by state

For some, the best way to relax could be by doing nothing at all (indeed, these apparent “slackers” may be onto something, health-wise).

We learned that people living in certain states might appreciate the art of sitting still more than others. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, men and women living in Washington, DC, spent the most time decompressing by relaxing or thinking, averaging 125 minutes when they engage in this activity. D.C. is followed by Mississippi (109.2), Maryland (104.6), and South Carolina (103.4).

In contrast to these laid-back states, the people of New Hampshire averaged only 51 minutes, followed by Vermont (54.1), South Dakota (63), and Kansas (65.4).

Changes in how we spend our time

Next, we compared figures from 2003 to those from 2016 to get a sense for how Americans’ activities at home have changed over the past decade or so.

Although Americans are known to put in long hours at the office each week, our study shows that (at home anyway) they are now spending more time relaxing and pursuing personal interests and less time than less time cleaning up than they did in 2003.  

According to our analysis, the amount of time people are now spending reading for personal interest, managing finances, and participating in arts and crafts has increased more than other activities, while interior cleaning, lawn and garden care, and laundry have decreased.

This shift in pastimes may be the result of more efficient cleaning techniques, smaller overall yard sizes, or even a preference among some people to spend their money on things like house cleaning and lawn maintenance services that help free up more time to pursue other activities.

Shifts in how we spend our time, by gender

While Americans overall have shifted in how they’ve invested their time since 2003, these changes were meaningfully different for men and women.

Compared to her 2003 counterpart, a woman today spends more time on arts and crafts (+17%) and less time (–13%, on average) using computers for leisure. Women also spent slightly more time playing games, relaxing and thinking, and watching TV and movies. While the amount of time women spend on financial management hasn’t changed since 2003, they now spend slightly less time (–2%) doing laundry.

Like women, men today spend less time on chores than they did in 2003. Our analysis showed men spend 8% less time doing laundry and 4% less time on garden or lawn care. They spend more time balancing their checkbooks, though, and reported a marginal increase in how many minutes they spend relaxing and thinking, playing games, and doing arts and crafts each day.

Shifts in how we spend our time, by generation

Americans of various ages reported different changes in their pastime priorities between 2003 and 2016, as well. Time spent doing laundry decreased significantly for both the oldest and youngest generations, while Gen Xers actually spent a few extra minutes each day folding and hanging than in the past. With retirement almost within reach, Baby Boomers increased the amount of time spent on financial management by 28%; and Millennials decreased their bookkeeping time by a whopping 36%.

Millennials must have taken that extra time and applied it to more enjoyable activities, since this group also increased the amount of time they spent doing arts and crafts (+10%), relaxing and thinking (+9%), and playing games (+4%).

Time spent watching TV over time, by state

Despite the relatively small national change in the amount of time some spent watching TV each day (+3%), we learned that some states have experienced more significant shifts in their viewing habits than others.

In Rhode Island, the number of minutes Americans spent watching TV daily increased by 57%, on average. Similarly, our analysis showed other Midwest states, including North Dakota, Nebraska, and Iowa, saw dramatic increases in the amount of time people spent in front of their TVs.

In Hawaii, however, the amount of time spent watching TV decreased by 25%, while Maine, Delaware, and Oklahoma saw similarly reduced time frames for television use. Among other reasons, these decreases may be a response to Americans getting their news and entertainment content from digital resources rather than from broadcast TV.

Methodology

To determine the average amount of time spent on household activities per day, we used the American Time Use Survey data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics from 2012 to 2016. To look at how activities changed over time, we used data from 2003 to 2016. The household activities were filtered by location for activities that were conducted in each respondent’s home or yard. Results were weighted using weights provided by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics for the American Time Use Survey.

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