Jewish World Review Nov. 23, 2004 / 10 Kislev, 5765

Kevin Horrigan

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Consumer Reports

Feeling pressed for time? Then turn off the TV, and stop cleaning the bathroom so often -- America's way too busy watching television to worry about wasting time. While Americans were busy with the World Series and the presidential election, they may have overlooked Time Day on Oct. 24, a day set aside every year by environmentalists and shrinks selling time-management books to remind people they're too darned busy.

I always have thought most people had just the opposite problem. Sure, Americans say they're too busy, but a nation that has time for golf, 3-hour-and-45-minute football games and "The Rebel Billionaire" is not too busy.

Now comes the National Bureau of Labor Statistics - a government agency whose very name causes most Americans to doze off - to back me up. It seems that the average American spends more than 11 out of every 24 hours either sleeping or watching television.

The American Time Use Survey, or ATUS, reports that on an "average day" in 2003, Americans age 15 and up spent 8.6 hours sleeping, 5.1 hours engaged in leisure and sports activities, 3.7 hours working and 1.8 hours doing household activities. The rest of the time they spent on other things, including eating and drinking, attending school, shopping or griping about being too busy.

Right away you can see flaws in the survey. Including teenagers in the poll obviously skews the sleeping results higher and the work results lower. The average teenager also spends three hours a day in the shower.

So let's go to the results for "employed persons." ATUS reports that the average employed person worked 7.6 hours on workdays. Men worked eight hours a day; women, 7.1 hours.

This is where the real value of the ATUS survey can be seen. It clearly explodes a lot of myths about differences between how men and women spend their time.

ATUS suggests that the 54-minute gap between a man's work day and a woman's can be explained by the fact that more women than men work part time. A better explanation could be that men just naturally work harder than women, who often are offering one another nurturing, emotional support in the ladies room while their male colleagues are toting that barge and lifting that bale.

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On the other hand, on an average day, 84 percent of women report doing household activities such as cooking, housework and lawn care, as compared with only 63 percent of men. Women report spending 2.3 hours a day on these chores, as compared with 1.33 hours for men.

Again, there are interpretation problems. Women always claim that the "burden" of taking care of the house falls on them, whereas an alternate explanation is that men get their share (and more!) of the work done faster. Women, for example, waste time cleaning bathtubs, while men know that if natural flow of water cut the Grand Canyon, over time it also will clean a bathtub. Also, to my knowledge, women don't actually do lawn work.

The ATUS report says that women spend about an hour a day on housework, while men get their share done in less than 15 minutes. Also, women report spending an average of an hour a day caring for children in the household, compared to 15 minutes for men.

Again, the discrepancy can be explained by natural male efficiency, i.e. telling a child to "spit on it" when he scrapes a knee instead of spending precious time on first aid and succor. Also, women tend to change their own and their children's clothing with unnecessary frequency.

Men average 10 minutes a day less sleep than women and spend 13 minutes less per day on "personal care" (bathing, grooming, etc.), although those guys on "Queer Eye" probably skew the curve.

Where men really shine is in the all-important category of leisure and sports, watching 20 minutes more per day of television (2.75 hours to 2.41 hours). This is not to say men don't keep themselves physically fit, spending a grueling 23 minutes a day working out to only 12.6 minutes for women.

And as to the frequently heard complaint that "we never talk," men actually spend almost as much time as women (43 minutes to 50 minutes) on "socializing and communicating." It is possible that men could be spending those 43 minutes a day communicating with other men about, say, the shortcomings of a football coach, instead of talking with their wives, but not likely.

The National Bureau of Labor Statistics thinks its time-use survey will be handy in developing national labor policy, though I think it will be even handier around the house:

Her: "How about taking out the trash?"

Him: "Sorry, I've only got 2.5 hours of television in so far today, and I have to get to bed early if I'm going to get my 8.6 hours."

This will be a wonderful conversation starter.

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© 2004, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
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