Recession Time Survey: 30% of Foregone Work Hours Spent on Sleep, Watching TV


Even after a decent jobs report earlier this month, unemployment is still over 9%. The underemployment rate? That’s 16%, and includes part-time workers who’d rather be full-time, plus people who’ve simply stopped looking for a job. So what are we doing with all that extra free time?

A new study by economists from Princeton and the University of Chicago breaks it down. The bulk of foregone market work time during the recent recession, they say, is spent on leisure.

Here’s the abstract:

We use data from the American Time Use Survey (ATUS), covering both the recent recession and the pre-recessionary period, to explore how foregone market work hours are allocated to other activities over the business cycle. Given the short time series, it is hard to distinguish business cycle effects from low frequency trends by simply comparing time spent on a given category prior to the recession with time spent on that category during the recession. Instead, we identify the business cycle effects on time use using cross state variation with respect to the severity of the recessions. We find that roughly 30% to 40% of the foregone market work hours are allocated to increased home production. Additionally, 30% of the foregone hours are allocated to increased sleep time and increased television watching. Other leisure activities absorb 20% of the foregone market work hours. We use our evidence from the ATUS to calibrate and test the predictions of workhorse macroeconomic models with home production. We show that the quantitative implications of these models regarding the allocation of time over the business cycle matches reasonably well the actual behavior of households.

Between 2007 and 2010, total market work fell from 32.90 hours per week to 30.14 hours per week for the average individual in the sample. The 8.38% decline in work hours for the sample is close to the 8.06% decline in work hours as reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Most of the decrease of market work occurred between 2008 and 2010.

Here’s a breakdown of where the foregone work hours are being allocated:

  • 20% to sleeping.
  • 15% to “other leisure,” including listening to music and being on the computer, exercising and recreation, and hobbies such as arts, collecting, writing.
  • 13% to core home production activities (cooking, cleaning, laundry, etc.)
  • 12% to watching TV.
  • 12% to time investments in own health care, own education, and civic activities.
  • 8% to increased shopping.
  • 7% to home maintenance and repair.
  • 6% to child care.
  • 4% to the care of other older adults.
  • 1% of the foregone market work hours are allocated to job search.

Though the authors didn’t compute standard errors for comparisons of men and women (so they may not be statistically significant), some interesting gender differences do pop out of the data. While women allocated 13% of their foregone work hours to watching  TV, men allocated 19%. Women allocated 24% of lost work hours to sleeping, while men allocated 12%.

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  1. Soumyadeep says:

    But sleep is the most essential element of life. Watching TV is a source of entertainment that helps in being in healthy mindset…

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  2. Jeremy says:

    I went through years of unemployment. After countless rejections the will not to get rejected overcomes the will to keep applying. Sometimes weeks would go by without looking for job opportunities, but the house stayed clean and the shopping got done before the spouse came home, and I was as fit physically as I’d ever been. But the soul seemed to lose a little hope every day. Had I been young enough I would have joined the army, just for something to be told to do.

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  3. The Regular Joe says:

    I now turned 30 and I culculated I have another 14,000 hours to live more or less. hope I’ll know to spend them better

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  4. I bet a small number of clinically depressed people are skewing the sleep numbers.

    No separate category for drinking? These “researchers” have GOT to get out more!

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  5. Hunter Muxfeldt says:

    If this study is not statistically significant the information is really not that substantial and should be looked into further. Also, the categories don’t seem to cover other activities and tasks that people could be doing (ie: spending time with friends, or drinking, because there is a huge drinking culture). As the recession has had it’s ups and downs, I have seen many friends and parent’s of friends pick up nasty drinking habits, which could be more conducive to this excess sleep.

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