Americans are watching TV more than ever and talking to each other less. It seems we’re a nation of TV-addicted hermits.
The 2016 results of the American Time Use Survey, done by the U.S Census Bureau for the Bureau of Labor Statistics, came out this week. It shows some chilling data about how Americans spend their time at home.
The short answer? Americans come home from work to watch TV and avoid human contact.
America’s eyes are glued to TV screens
Watching TV is America’s favorite leisure activity, according to the Census Bureau data. Sitting in front of a televisions took up 2.7 hours daily, or just over half of the total free time Americans have each day.
The survey found that American men spend 5.5 hours watching television programming on an average day— compared to women who spent 4.8 hours doing so.
The survey also broke down how long people watched by age, employment status and more. Older people took more time out of their day for TV— those 65 and older watched more than four hours daily on average. On the other hand, the 15-44 age group watched the least, about 2 hours daily on average. The unemployed also spent more time watching daily on average than those with jobs— 3.78 hours— versus 2.10 hours for people with either full-time or part-time jobs.
That means that even people with jobs are spending most of their time, on average, watching some kind of television programming.
America is not excited about physical fitness
The flipside is that 21% of Americans in 2016 exercised after work in 2016, with 22.7% of men and 19.2% of women getting into motion. While that’s a big bump from 2003 — when 17% of people reportedly engaged in “sports, exercise, or recreation” on a regular day — it still means that the vast majority of Americans are not making time for physical fitness each day.
To break it down another way: if you took any four Americans, only one of them would go to the gym after work.
We multitask — a lot — while watching TV
The BLS had an expansive understanding of “leisure activities,” saying that this category included “watching television; reading; relaxing or thinking; playing computer, board, or card games; using a computer or the Internet for personal interest; playing or listening to music; and other activities, such as attending arts, cultural, and entertainment events.”
The fact that catching up on TV is a classic American pastime is no secret— but neither is the concept that we tend to do a bunch of other tasks while viewing.
A separate study, the 10th edition of Deloitte’s digital democracy survey, found that 92% of people are “multitasking” while the TV is on. People between the ages of 14 years old and 32 years old do an average of four extra things while they’re watching TV. People ages 33-49 do three extra things on average at that time, while those who are 50-68 and 69+ do one extra thing on average.
Translation: even though we’re in front of the TV, we’re not really engaged with it.
Here’s how much we like to be active and be with others
Employed adults who had no kids under 18 in their houses were far more active than working parents. The employed adults with no young kids did leisure and sports activities for 4.5 hours daily, according to the BLS. This is 1.2 hours more than adults with jobs who also had kids younger than age six at home.
Caveat: That 4.5 hours included watching sports as well as playing them. It also included recreational activities such as “yard games like croquet or horseshoes, as well as activities like billiards and dancing.”
What most Americans aren’t doing is talking to other people. The “socializing and communicating” category included talking in person, or going to or leading events, and took up an average of a paltry 39 minutes per day. On weekends, this number was 59 minutes— compared to 31 minutes on weekdays.
Watching TV with no human interaction is probably not the America we want to be. When your other responsibilities outside of work are taken care of, instead switch gears and use your free time to relax, reflect and reconnect with others so you can return to work recharged.