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Why Some Dine and Others Graze

The average American spends about one hour at meals, and about the same time grazing — eating as a secondary activity to something else (very often leisure). But how does this differ across the population? Those whose time is valuable — who have a high wage — have an incentive to multi-task, to graze rather than devote their full time to meals.
Moreover, since setting up meals takes time (has fixed costs), higher-wage people have an incentive to engage in more incidents of grazing and have relatively fewer meals. This simple bit of economics describes what we observe in detailed data from the American Time Use Survey. It’s another illustration of how economic thinking can predict and explain phenomena that, at first blush, would hardly seem to be economic.