Generational Differences in Time Use

How people spend their time says a lot about them. A fascinating interactive graphic by the New York Times breaks out how different groups spend their time based on data from The American Survey of Time Use. By clicking different groups, you can literally see how the proportion of time spent working, sleeping, eating, on housework, education, TV watching, etc. changes at every minute of the day.

This graphic is very engrossing and reveals interesting generational differences. Comparing 15-24 year olds to 25-64 year olds shows the younger group spends a higher proportion of their on education, and lower proportion on housework and work. No great surprise there. Here are some less obvious observations:

Time Shift: I have observed before that Millennials appear to be ‘nocturnal’, here’s the evidence. They go to bed later and sleep later than any other age group. At 11:11AM, 11% are still sleeping; at 11:10 PM 53% are still awake with 14% watching TV or movies, 6% socializing, and 3% talking on the phone. Interestingly, just 2% are doing homework. My daughter has arranged her college schedule to ensure no class starts before 11:00 AM. She regularly goes to bed at 2:00 or 3:00 AM. @bengarbe twittered today: “Frankly, this 26 year old would give up thousands in salary to be able to sleep until noon, work 12-8pm from home, etc.”

Sports: Sports and fitness are a big part of Gen Y’s lives. At any point between 10:00 AM and 10:00 PM between 3% and 6% of 15-24 year olds are participating in ‘sports’. The comparable figure for 25-64 year olds is 1-2%. On average, 15-24 year olds spend 36 minutes a day on sports, about twice the time spent by 25-64 year olds.

Reading & Other Interest: 15-24 year olds spend on average :50 minutes a day reading and pursuing other interests. This is much higher than 25-64 year olds who spend 32 minutes. The research points out that half of that time is spent ‘reading’. Those over 64 spent by far the most time reading per day: 1 hour and 24 minutes. This presumably does not include computer time, as that is accounted for separately.

This cleverly designed chart is remiss in only one respect: it doesn’t account for multi-tasking, and assumes that people are doing one thing at a time. Of course, we know that Millennials are master jugglers, who eke more hours than the rest of us from a 24 hour day, if we are to take their word for it.