Thursday, August 16, 2018

econlife - How We Use Our Time by Elaine Schwartz

When we see our lives as a box of jelly beans, 79 years would equal 28,835. So yes, after the first year, we’ve used up 365. Then, setting aside 8,477 jelly beans for sleeping, we still have thousands left for work, preparing our meals, watching TV.

Do take a look at this 2013 jelly bean video to see how we allocate the hours of our lives. It uses data from the annual BLS (Bureau of Labor Statistics) American Time Use Survey (ATUS):

And here is the most recent survey from June 2018:

Where are we going? To a closer look at our leisure time.


Since the 2017 ATUS, Americans increased their leisure time by seven minutes. The reason though is that we are older. And as you might expect, employed men had 33 more leisure minutes than women. As for what we did, it was probably watch TV although grandma and grandpa spent the most time in front of the set. Instead, it appears that computers and playing video games occupy close to an hour each day for 15-24-year-olds but only 13 minutes if you are 35-44 years-old. Sadly, reading is attracting less time among the young.

As the age group that works the least, people over 65 had the most leisure time. Meanwhile, their 35 to 44 year-old children had more than three hours less to watch TV, relax, read, and think:

Our Bottom Line: Opportunity Cost

Time use decisions always require a sacrifice. Called opportunity cost, choosing is refusing the next best alternative. When you eat pizza for lunch, you might have refused a salad. Watching a video could mean you did not talk on the phone. And picking up a penny prevents you from using those seconds for something else.

Similarly, whether it involves the work we could have done or exercising rather than reading, leisure always has a tradeoff. And whatever we did not do would have had benefits that we decided to forego.

Thinking of those tradeoffs, you might want to compare your time use to the averages:

My sources and more: For some extra detail, do take a look at this ATUS summary. Then, if you want even more, this is the entire survey and a blog that provides some additional insight. 
Meanwhile, the WSJ report provides some history.

Ideal for the classroom, reflects Elaine Schwartz’s work as a teacher and a writer. As a teacher at the Kent Place School in Summit, NJ, she’s been an Endowed Chair in Economics and chaired the history department. She’s developed curricula, was a featured teacher in the Annenberg/CPB video project “The Economics Classroom,” and has written several books including Econ 101 ½ (Avon Books/Harper Collins). You can get econlife on a daily basis! Head to econlife.