Americans Work Hard, but Have Plenty of Downtime

Jungyeon Roh

For many working Americans, an August vacation is a welcome respite. The challenge of balancing work and life's other obligations can seem almost overwhelming at times. Yet Americans often have more time on their hands than they seem to think.

Out of the 168 hours in a week, the average American worker spends 39 hours on work-related activities, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics's (BLS) American Time Use Survey. Sleep and basic personal care consume another 64 hours. That leaves 65 hours a week—nine hours a day—to spend as we choose.

Anyone who has children knows that time not spent working or sleeping is not entirely your own. Sizable chunks of time go to the mundane: child care, household chores, eating and the like. But the BLS finds that after deducting everything else, working Americans still have an average of 26 uncommitted hours each week devoted to leisure. And more than half of that leisure time is spent watching television.

Of course, 26 hours of leisure is the average. Some individuals work more hours or even have two jobs. Around 11 percent of Americans work more than 50 hours per week, while the average for developed countries is more like 9 percent. Caring for a child or parent, household chores, and church and civic obligations absorb time too. But the fact remains that earning a living takes, on average, only about 40 percent of our waking hours.

So if you are fortunate enough to enjoy a summer vacation this year, remember that when you go back to work you still have a lot of time to do other things. According to the BLS, for every hour spent working, Americans have 40 minutes or so for leisure activities. So get to work on getting the most out of that downtime.