Yes, twenty-somethings work less and sleep more now than a decade ago, but we’re not lazy

Let the data explain away the “lazy Millennial” stereotype.
Let the data explain away the “lazy Millennial” stereotype.
Image: AP Photo/Evan Agostini
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Every year, the United States government collects information on how American citizens spend their time. Don’t worry—no one’s spying on you through your laptop’s webcam. I think.

No, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics collects this data from volunteers who embark on the admittedly quite daunting task of accounting for a single day of their lives, minute by minute. It’s called the American Time Use Survey, and according to the folks at Priceonomics, “The results of the survey map out, with incredible detail, the exact number of minutes a representative sample of Americans spend on activities like sleeping, working, playing sports, and talking on the phone. By examining this data, we can get a sense of what Americans are doing over the course of an average day.”

And what’s amazing about the data collected by BLS over the years is the picture it paints of how ordinary Americans are evolving. Between 2004 and 2014, for example, tremendous strides in the areas of mobile-phone technology and social media connectivity were made—radically altering not just the way we communicate, but also how we spend decent portions of our days. (A 2004 Motorola Razr phone was simply not as effective a time-suck as the iPhone 6S.)

The Priceonomics breakdown is particularly interesting because it compares time spent by 20 to 29 year olds in 2004 and 2014 specifically; and while some developments were probably predictable—i.e., twentysomethings in 2014 spend much more time on the Internet than they did in 2004—some were pretty surprising.

Conventional wisdom is that Millennials are awful people. I can testify to this, I am one. Most of the people I know are too. We are, as a group, not amazing. Then again, I challenge you to find me a generation post-1945 that is. I don’t necessarily agree with the idea, however, that Millennials are measurably more entitled or lazy or less inclined to hard work than the generations that preceded them. And the data provided by BLS and collected by Priceonomics backs this up.

Yes, it appears twentysomethings in 2014 spend more time on “personal care” (sleeping, grooming, health) than in 2004—about 25 more minutes a day—but this is rationally explainable. According to Priceonomics, “The increase in sleep for people in their twenties is actually quite similar to the increase for the population in general. Including all Americans 15 and older, the number of minutes slept per night went up from 522 minutes in 2004 to 533 minutes in 2014.”

Admittedly, when coupled with the fact that twentysomethings in 2014 spend approximately ten fewer minutes working or engaging in “work-related activities” than in 2004, it looks as though we’re a bunch of sleepy layabouts. But let’s remember a little thing that happened in 2008 that may have adversely affected employment prospects for young people in 2014, shall we? According to Priceonomics, Millennials working less “is almost entirely because of the substantially lower levels of employment faced by people in their twenties between those years: while about 23.0% of respondents were not employed in 2004, approximately 26.1% of respondents were not employed in 2014 (this difference is not attributable to people being in school).”

Now let’s look at what Millennials are doing better:

  • We spend approximately three more minutes a day doing household chores or cleaning than our predecessors in 2004.
  • We spend two more minutes pursuing educational opportunities. (Again, probably an aftershock from the post-2008 employment slump.)
  • We spend about half a minute more volunteering.

Surprisingly, we’re also reading more than twentysomethings in 2004. According to Priceonomics:

“The increase of reading for pleasure may be a surprise. The effect is small, but could be a result of the time people now spend reading articles sent to them on Facebook, rather than watching TV. A Pew Research Center Study also suggests young people are the most likely to be reading books, perhaps in part because of the popularity of young adult (YA) fiction.”

So, yes, we’re sleeping more. (Which I refuse to accept as a “bad” thing.) And we work less. But that doesn’t mean we’re doing less. The Internet has fundamentally changed how everyone lives their daily lives. It has disrupted everything from communication to shopping to moviegoing. Why shouldn’t it disrupt traditional definitions of time well spent, too?