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WORK-LIFE BALANCE

This is how Americans spend time differently across the year

People skate on the Wollman ice rink in Central Park, which opened for the season today to temperatures in the mid 70's, in New York
Reuters/Chip East
Data show how Americans spend their time across the seasons.
  • Dan Kopf
By Dan Kopf

Data editor

December is a unique month. For people in the US, it can be a period of high stress. Seeing family, attending holiday parties, and worrying about gifts sends many people into a tizzy.

On the bright side, December is also the month in which Americans work the least. According to a Quartz analysis of the American Time Use Survey, an annual survey by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics of how Americans spend their time, the average person works about 7% less in December than they typically do throughout the year (that’s about a half hour less work per day than in March, the US’s peak working month). Only July even comes close in time away from the office.

To a large degree, the data show that this working time is replaced by socializing, and to a lesser extent food preparation. December is second only to July in terms of the time people say they spend hanging out with friends and family, and it’s number one for time spent cooking.

Besides sleeping and working, Americans spend more time watching TV and movies throughout the year than any other activity. Screen time decreases in the warmer months, and jumps in the winter. People spend 4% more time on TV and movies than usual in December, but it’s January that’s prime time for couch potatoes, at about 13% higher than usual. The Bureau of Labor Statistics cautions that the time use data was made for analysis by quarter, not month. Still, these data are good reflections of monthly trends, if not perfect ones.

Though working time goes down in December, not every leisure activity rises. Time spent “relaxing and thinking”—which includes activities such as “daydreaming,” “sitting around” and “reflecting—is 10% lower than usual in December. Reading for fun also declines during this month. It goes to show: While people might not “work” for money as much during the holidays, they also don’t have much time for lazing around.

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