American Consumers Newsletter

by Cheryl Russell, Editorial Director, New Strategist Press
May 2007

Time Use Survey Reveals




Playing games ranks eighth in time use among teenaged boys, ahead of homework, listening to music, and talking on the phone with friends.


Time Use Survey Reveals Who Spends the Most Time Watching TV, Talking on the Phone, and Counting Sheep

If you have ever wondered while watching TV why advertisers are so intent on selling snacks or sleep aids or cleaning products–or even why they spend so much money on television advertising itself–the answers lie in the federal government’s new time use survey. Advertisers hawk these things because they are attuned to our priorities, and time use survey results show just what those priorities are. On an average day, eating ranks fourth on our list of important things to do, behind only sleeping, working, and watching television (which is why advertisers spend so much money on television spots). Cleaning the house ranks eighth among activities to which we devote the most time. And on an average night, millions of Americans are sleepless, the statistics reveal.

These numbers come from the Bureau of Labor Statistics American Time Use Survey. This data-gathering effort, which began in 2003, is accomplished through telephone interviews with a nationally representative sample of Americans aged 15 or older. During these interviews, researchers collect information in minute detail about what respondents did during the previous 24 hours–otherwise known as “diary day.”

During the past few months, New Strategist has undertaken an exhaustive analysis of unpublished, detailed 2005 time use data by age group. Age, we believe, is the most important determinant of time use because it predicts lifecycle stage. In turn, lifecycle stage determines whether someone is in school, going to work, married, or a parent. Lifecycle stage sets our priorities, determining how we spend our 24-hour allotment of time. During the course of our analysis, New Strategist uncovered some surprising facts about time use and confirmed a few well-known stereotypes as well.

Lets start with teenagers. Anyone who has ever lived with teens knows they spend a lot of time in the bathroom. The time use statistics confirm this stereotype. People aged 15 to 19 spend more time grooming as a primary activity than any other age group, an average of 0.79 hours per day (or about 47 minutes). Teens are also known for being on the telephone too much. Again, time use statistics uphold the stereotype. People aged 15 to 19 spend more time on the telephone with friends as a primary activity than any other age group. But teens are not the ones most likely to talk to family members on the telephone. Older Americans spend more time than younger ones talking to family on the phone.

Because they have more free time than anyone else, older Americans spend much more time watching television than younger adults. In fact, people aged 75 or older spend one-quarter of their waking hours watching television as a primary activity. Older Americans also spend more time reading. In fact, among people aged 45 or older, reading for personal interest ranks among the ten most time-consuming daily activities. Among those aged 75 or older it ranks fourth, behind only sleeping, watching television, and eating.

Playing games is an interesting category in the time use survey because it includes computer games as well as board and card games such as poker or bridge. Because the category spans a wide variety of activities, time spent playing games as a primary activity peaks in two age groups–among teens and young adults, and among those aged 65 or older. The younger group is most certainly playing computers games. The older group is more likely playing board and card games such as bridge.

The middle aged, and specifically people aged 45 to 54, spend the most time working. In fact, men aged 45 to 54 who worked on diary day spent more time at their main job than sleeping. Surprisingly, however, the middle aged do not spend the most time on household chores–although they have the largest households. Older Americans spend the most time doing chores. People aged 75 or older spend more time cleaning house, preparing meals, and cleaning up in the kitchen than any other age group. People aged 65 to 74 spend the most time grocery shopping. People aged 55 to 74 spend the most time on lawn and garden care. The observation that work expands to fill the time available helps explain these facts. Older Americans have much more free time than younger adults (even more than teenagers). They spend much of their free time cleaning, fixing, and improving.

Not surprisingly, the time spent caring for household children peaks among people with young children at home–in the 25-to-44 age groups. The time spent caring for children in other households (e.g., grandchildren) peaks in the 55-to-74 age groups. The time spent helping adults in other households (often elderly parents) is greatest in the 55-to-64 age group. Interestingly, the time spent caring for pets is greatest among people aged 45 to 64, many of them with recently emptying nests.

Time use statistics reveal the defining elements of our culture, and nothing defines our culture more than the automobile. The time use survey data show traveling to be one of our most time-consuming daily activities. On an average day, people aged 15 or older spend 1.26 hours, or about 1 hour and 16 minutes, traveling. (The category traveling is defined as going from one destination to another.) While any mode of transportation is included in the category, the automobile is by far the dominant mode of transportation in the United States. The average amount of time spent traveling does not vary much by lifecycle stage, except for a decline in the oldest age group.

The time use data also show the most important reasons for daily travel at each lifecycle stage. Overall, travel related to work (i.e., commuting) is the most time-consuming travel subcategory. But among teenagers, travel related to socializing is number one. Among 65-to-74- year-olds, travel related to shopping is the most time-consuming travel subcategory. Regardless of lifecycle stage, most of us spend a good part of our day in automobiles. This explains why advertisements for cars are so common on television and in newspapers. Cars are one of our top priorities.

By Cheryl Russell, editorial director, New Strategist Publications

To learn more about our priorities, see New Strategist’s American Time Use: Who Spends How Long at What, available now as a pdf download or preorder the hardcopy coming in June.

If you have any questions or comments about the above editorial, e-mail New Strategist at



On an average day, 19 percent of people aged 45 to 54 care for pets as a primary activity. A smaller 17 percent care for household children.

2. Q & A

Are Americans Feeling Better?

There is no doubt we are living longer, but are we feeling better? Apparently, the answer is no. Although life expectancy in the United States is at a record high, self-reported health status is declining. These contradictory trends are an unexpected and unwelcome finding, and they call into question the basic paradigm of modern medicine–that improvements in the diagnosis and treatment of a variety of diseases will result not just in a longer life, but a better life as well.

According to the federal government’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, the percentage of adults aged 18 or older who report being in excellent or very good health fell from 58 to 54 percent between 1995 and 2005. The aging of the population explains some of the decline, since older Americans are less likely to report being in tip-top shape. But an examination of the trends by age reveals the greatest decline occurred among people aged 25 to 54 rather than the elderly.

A study by researchers at the Population Aging Research Center of the University of Pennsylvania corroborates these findings. In an analysis of data from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS), Beth J. Soldo, Olivia S. Mitchell, Rania Tfaily, and John F. McCabe examine the health of three cohorts of Americans nearing retirement age. (See They conclude that today’s 51-to-56-year-olds–baby boomers–are worse off than their parents were at the same age: “Boomers indicate they have relatively more difficulty with a range of everyday physical tasks, but they also report having more pain, more chronic conditions, more drinking and psychiatric problems, than their HRS earlier counterparts.”

What accounts for our worsening health? The researchers offer several suggestions, including the growing problem of obesity. Another possibility is that boomers are whiners. Or, as the researchers phrase it: “Younger cohorts are less accepting of physiological changes.”

For more information about the health of the American population, see the new second edition of American Health: Demographics and Spending of Health Care Consumers, available now as a pdf download from the New Strategist web site or preorder the hardcopy coming in June.

If you have any questions or comments about the above Q & A, e-mail New Strategist at



Percentage of adults reporting at least 14 days of poor mental health during the past month: 10.



To keep up-to-date on ever-changing demographics and lifestyles, check out these useful web addresses.

A look at living standards 2007pubs/p70-110.pdf
The new Census Bureau report, Extended Measures of Well-Being: Living Conditions in the United States, 2003, snuck almost unnoticed onto the bureau’s web site a few weeks ago and can be accessed at the above link. The report, based on results from the Survey of Income and Program Participation, examines our standard of living by a variety of measures that go beyond income. They are: 1) ownership of appliances and electronic goods; 2) housing conditions; 3) neighborhood conditions; 4) ability to meet basic needs; and 5) expectation of help should needs arise. The report finds 56 percent of households own basic appliances, 68 percent are located in a satisfactory neighborhood, 84 percent live in adequate housing, 88 percent are able to get help if necessary from friends, relatives, or agencies, and 90 percent are able to meet their basic needs. Almost every indicator of wellbeing increased between 1992 and 2003, the bureau reports.

Trends in values and attitudes reports/display.php3?ReportID=312
The landmark study, Trends in Political Values and Core Attitudes: 1987-2007, is available from the Pew Research Center at the above link. The 112-page report examines how American attitudes and values have changed over the past thirty years toward a broad range of topics, including party affiliation, religion, race, business, civil liberties, and the environment. In contrast to the Census Bureau report described above, which concludes that living standards are on the rise, the Pew study finds a growing share of Americans feel like they do not have enough money to make ends meet, the figure rising from 35 to 44 percent between 2002 and 2007.



The median annual income of men aged 35 to 44 fell from $45,000 to $41,000 between 1980 and 2005, after adjusting for inflation.


Five reasons why New Strategist’s four new titles should be on your bookshelf:

  1. Fast access to the numbers you need
  2. East to understand and use
  3. Every number fact checked
  4. Charts and tables well constructed for data clarity
  5. Indexed for easy and quick use

NEW TITLE: American Time Use: Who Spends How Long at What
American Time Use: Who Spends How Long at What presents the details about how people spend their time by the single most important factor determining time use–their age. A person’s age determines his or her lifecycle stage, and lifecycle stage determines whether he or she is in school, in the workforce, married, or a parent. Lifecycle stage sets our priorities, determining how we spend each day. Not available on any government web site, the detailed time use data presented in American Time Use were obtained from the Bureau of Labor Statistics upon special request. The extensive comparisons of time use by lifecycle stage included in the book are also not available from the federal government. New Strategists statisticians analyzed the raw time use data to produce the percentages of people participating in activities, the indexes, and the rankings–each of which reveals significant differences in time use by lifecycle stage. $89.95 (ISBN 978-1-933588-27-8; 480 pgs.; hardcover; June 2007). Need it now? Download it today from New Strategist’s web site,

NEW EDITION: The American Marketplace: Demographics and Spending Patterns, 8th ed.
Quick and easy access is the goal of the new eighth edition of The American Marketplace: Demographics and Spending Patterns. Designed for convenience, The American Marketplace draws on scores of government and proprietary sources to give you a population profile of the United States in one handy volume. Its hundreds of tables are organized into nine chapters on education, health, housing, income, labor force, living arrangements, population, spending, and wealth. $89.95 (ISBN 978-1-933588-23-0; 532 pgs.; hardcover; June 2007). Need it now? Download it today from New Strategist’s web site,

NEW EDITION: American Health: Demographics and Spending of Health Care Consumers, 2nd ed.
American Health: Demographics and Spending of Health Care Consumers focuses on health care consumers rather than industry statistics and reveals future market and policy needs. Drawing on government publications and websites and giving you more than twice as many tables as contained in the popular Health, United States, American Healths 14 chapters examine the whole gamut of our physical and mental wellbeing–addictions, aging, alternative medicine, births, deaths, disability, diseases, health care coverage, health care visits, hospital care, mental health, sexual attitudes and behavior, weight and exercise, and attitudes toward health care. $89.95 (ISBN 978-1-933588-26-1; 448 pgs.; hardcover; June 2007). Need it now? Download it today from New Strategist’s web site,

NEW EDITION: American Incomes: Demographics of Who Has Money, 6th ed.
(The first edition of American Incomes was selected as a Best Reference Source by Library Journal.) The new sixth edition of American Incomes: Demographics of Who Has Money explores and explains the economic status of Americans. It looks at household income trends by age, household type, race and ethnicity, education, region of residence, and work status. It examines trends in the incomes of men and women by a variety of demographic characteristics. It includes an analysis of hard-to-get discretionary income figures, produced by New Strategist’s statisticians specifically for this book. It provides the latest data on the wealth of American households. The poverty population is also a focus of American Incomes. $89.95 (ISBN 978-1-933588-26-1; 448 pgs.; hardcover; June 2007). Need it now? Download it today from New Strategist’s web site,

To see detailed lists of all the data tables in every New Strategist book, plus the books’ introductions, indexes, bibliographies, and sample pages, go to



Percentage of married couples in which the husband is ten or more years older than the wife: 7.