How We Spent Our Time in 2020 Versus 2019

To slow the spread of Covid-19, we shifted our everyday activities.

Our everyday routines changed over the past year, and with the recent data release from the 2020 American Time Use Survey, we can see by how much.

The survey, published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, asks participants what they did over a 24-hour period. Usually, the survey is ongoing with results published each year, but in 2020, it was suspended from mid-March to mid-May.

Still, we can see the shifts in activities. The charts below show how people spent their time in 2019 and 2020. Here’s how to read them:

2019

2020

20

75th

percentile

15

MINUTES

IN DAY

10

Median

5

25th

percentile

MEDIAN CHANGE FROM 2019 TO 2020

-40%

-30%

-20%

-10%

+10%

+20%

+30%

+40%

Less time

More time

First, we look at the activities where people spent more time. More green means more time compared to 2019. “Listening to the radio” leads the way with the median more than doubling and the 75th percentile almost quadrupling. Also, to no one’s surprise, people spent more time on home projects.

Listening to

the radio

Home security

Interior arrange.,

decoration, and

repairs

Computer use for

leisure (not

games)

Financial

management

Playing with

hh children,

not sports

Personal e−mail

and messages

Homework with

household

children

Lawn, garden,

and houseplant

care

2019

2020

2019

2020

2019

2020

2019

2020

2019

2020

2019

2020

2019

2020

2019

2020

2019

2020

160

120

45

90

140

140

14

200

140

80

40

80

100

120

120

120

35

70

12

150

80

60

100

100

100

30

60

10

80

25

50

80

60

80

100

40

60

8

20

40

60

40

60

40

15

30

50

6

40

20

20

20

40

10

20

Reading to/with

household

children

Storing interior

household items,

including food

Phone calls to/

from friends,

neighbors

Playing games

Traveling to/

from gas station

Household/

personal

organization

Travel related to

eating and

drinking

Exterior

cleaning

Laundry

2019

2020

2019

2020

2019

2020

2019

2020

2019

2020

2019

2020

2019

2020

2019

2020

2019

2020

120

60

35

120

90

40

180

50

80

25

160

100

30

50

35

100

70

40

140

25

80

40

30

80

60

20

120

30

20

60

50

30

25

60

100

40

15

20

15

40

20

20

80

40

30

10

10

20

10

20

15

10

60

Travel for

household

management

App, tool, toy

set−up, repair,

maint. (by self)

Waiting for/with

hh children

Waiting assoc.

with helping

household adults

Arts and crafts

as a hobby

Running

Weightlifting/

strength training

Gap/can’t

remember

Telephone calls,

miscellaneous

2019

2020

2019

2020

2019

2020

2019

2020

2019

2020

2019

2020

2019

2020

2019

2020

2019

2020

35

200

60

60

120

120

70

30

35

55

55

100

30

100

60

30

150

25

50

50

80

25

50

25

80

45

45

60

20

100

40

20

20

40

40

60

40

30

15

15

15

50

35

35

40

20

20

10

10

30

30

10

Walking

Biking

Relaxing,

thinking

Looking after

hh children (as

prim. activity)

Eating and

drinking

Sleeplessness

Travel related

to taking class

Television and

movies (not

religious)

Rsrch/HW for

class for degree

or license

2019

2020

2019

2020

2019

2020

2019

2020

2019

2020

2019

2020

2019

2020

2019

2020

2019

2020

300

60

60

120

60

90

45

80

250

55

80

40

250

50

100

50

70

50

70

35

200

40

200

80

60

45

40

60

30

30

150

150

50

60

40

50

25

30

20

40

100

35

40

20

40

100

30

20

10

30

30

15

Work,

other job(s)

Food and drink

preparation

Sleeping

2019

2020

2019

2020

2019

2020

300

60

250

550

50

200

40

500

150

30

100

450

20

Interior arrange.,

decoration, and

repairs

Listening to

the radio

Home security

2019

2020

2019

2020

2019

2020

160

14

200

140

120

12

150

100

10

80

100

60

8

40

50

6

20

Computer use for

leisure (not

games)

Financial

management

Playing with

household children,

not sports

2019

2020

2019

2020

2019

2020

120

140

80

100

120

80

60

100

60

80

40

40

60

20

20

40

Personal e−mail

and messages

Homework with

household

children

Lawn, garden, and

houseplant care

2019

2020

2019

2020

2019

2020

45

90

140

40

80

120

35

70

100

30

60

25

50

80

20

40

60

15

30

40

10

20

Reading to/with

household

children

Storing interior

household items,

including food

Phone calls to/

from friends,

neighbors

2019

2020

2019

2020

2019

2020

120

40

25

100

35

80

30

20

60

25

15

40

20

20

15

10

Playing games

Traveling to/from

gas station

Household/personal

organization

2019

2020

2019

2020

2019

2020

60

180

50

160

50

40

140

40

120

30

30

100

20

20

80

10

10

60

Travel for

eating and

drinking

Exterior

cleaning

Laundry

2019

2020

2019

2020

2019

2020

35

120

90

80

30

100

70

25

80

60

20

50

60

40

15

40

30

10

20

Travel for

household

management

App, tool, toy

set−up, repair,

maint. (by self)

Waiting for/with

hh children

2019

2020

2019

2020

2019

2020

120

30

35

100

30

25

80

25

60

20

20

40

15

15

20

10

10

Waiting assoc.

with helping

household adults

Arts and crafts

as a hobby

Running

2019

2020

2019

2020

2019

2020

35

200

60

55

30

150

50

25

45

100

20

40

15

50

35

10

30

Weightlifting/

strength training

Gap/

can’t remember

Telephone calls,

miscellaneous

2019

2020

2019

2020

2019

2020

60

120

70

55

100

60

50

50

80

45

40

40

60

30

35

40

20

30

Rsrch/HW for

class for degree

or license

Walking

Biking

2019

2020

2019

2020

2019

2020

300

60

60

55

250

50

50

200

45

40

150

40

30

100

35

30

20

Relaxing, thinking

Looking after

hh children (as

a prim. activity)

Eating and

drinking

2019

2020

2019

2020

2019

2020

120

60

80

50

100

70

40

80

60

30

50

60

20

40

40

10

30

Sleeplessness

Travel related

to taking class

Television

and movies

(not religious)

2019

2020

2019

2020

2019

2020

90

45

250

80

40

70

35

200

60

30

150

50

25

40

20

100

30

15

Work, other

job(s)

Food and drink

preparation

Sleeping

2019

2020

2019

2020

2019

2020

300

60

250

550

50

200

40

500

150

30

100

450

20

By looking at ranges from the 25th to 75th percentiles, we can see not just how the middle (median) changed, but also the variation within some activities.

For example, the median duration for household organization went up while the upper limit went down. The shape is more trapezoid than parallelogram. This seems to suggest people spent more time overall, but those who spent the most time on household organization pre-pandemic spent their time elsewhere.

Similarly, activities with children show a more significant increase on the upper end, but those without children in the household keep the bottom end more flat.

So where do the minutes come from? Here are activities that decreased the most, relatively speaking. More purple means steeper decrease.

Shopping, except

groceries, food,

and gas

Waiting assoc.

w/ helping nonhh

adults

Dropping off/

picking up

nonhh children

Health−related

self care

Travel for

religious/

spiritual prac.

Picking up/

dropping off

nonhh adult

Travel for

personal care

2019

2020

2019

2020

2019

2020

2019

2020

2019

2020

2019

2020

2019

2020

30

40

45

14

14

70

40

40

35

25

12

12

60

35

30

30

10

20

10

50

30

25

8

25

8

40

20

15

20

6

20

6

30

10

10

15

4

15

4

20

5

10

2

10

Travel for

relaxing and

leisure

Sewing, repairing,

and maintaining

textiles

Travel to

help household

adults

Banking

Using personal

care services

Walking,

playing

with animals

Taking class for

degree, certif.,

or license

2019

2020

2019

2020

2019

2020

2019

2020

2019

2020

2019

2020

2019

2020

30

120

40

60

200

400

14

180

35

100

25

50

350

160

12

30

140

80

300

20

10

40

120

25

250

8

60

100

15

30

20

80

6

200

40

10

60

15

20

Working out

Travel related

to working

Travel to care

for and help

nonHH kids

Home schooling

of household

children

Travel to help

nonhh adults

Physical care

for household

children

Work, main job

2019

2020

2019

2020

2019

2020

2019

2020

2019

2020

2019

2020

2019

2020

60

60

45

300

80

560

50

40

540

70

250

50

50

35

520

40

60

200

30

500

40

40

50

25

480

30

150

20

460

40

30

30

20

100

15

440

30

20

20

10

420

Waiting assoc.

w/ helping nonhh

adults

Dropping off/

picking up

nonhh children

Health−related

self care

2019

2020

2019

2020

2019

2020

30

14

40

25

12

30

20

10

8

20

15

6

10

10

4

5

Travel for

religious

practices

Picking up/

dropping off

nonhh adult

Shopping, except

groceries, food,

and gas

2019

2020

2019

2020

2019

2020

40

14

70

35

12

60

30

10

50

25

8

40

20

6

30

15

4

20

10

2

Travel for

relaxing and

leisure

Banking

Travel for

personal care

2019

2020

2019

2020

2019

2020

30

45

14

40

25

35

12

30

20

10

25

8

20

15

15

6

10

10

Sewing and

repairing,

textiles

Travel to

help hh adults

Using personal

care services

2019

2020

2019

2020

2019

2020

120

40

200

180

35

100

160

30

140

80

120

25

60

100

20

80

40

60

15

Working out

Walking, playing

with animals

Taking class for

degree, certif.,

or license

2019

2020

2019

2020

2019

2020

60

60

400

50

50

350

300

40

40

250

30

30

200

20

20

Travel related

to working

Travel related to

caring for and

helping nonHH kids

Home schooling

of hh children

2019

2020

2019

2020

2019

2020

60

45

300

40

250

50

35

200

30

40

25

150

20

30

100

15

20

10

Physical care

for household

children

Travel related to

helping nonhh

adults

Work, main job

2019

2020

2019

2020

2019

2020

80

560

50

540

70

520

40

60

500

50

480

30

460

40

20

440

30

420

Time spent waiting and dropping off others was down about half, probably because no one went anywhere, as supported by travel and commute times also down.

Health-related self care, personal care services, and working out jump out at me as activities that went down in time that I bet people miss.

The shape for home schooling of household children has me curious. I thought time would have increased across the board, but people seemed split in 2020.

I’m also curious about splits across demographic groups. Low income versus high income? Essential workers versus non-essential? Kids versus no kids? There’s a lot to look at.

Notes

  • The data comes from the American Time Use Survey, which is published the Bureau of Labor Statistics. You can download the data from BLS, or you can get a specified subset of the microdata via IPUMS, which is what I did.
  • I calculated the percentiles based on those who recorded the activity. It would be an interesting next step to look at the percentage of people who recorded the activity.
  • I made the charts with R and Adobe Illustrator.

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