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  • Diana Schneidman

Average American watches almost 3 hours of TV per day. Do you?

On June 23 the Wall Street Journal reported on Labor Department research showing that the average American age 15 or older spent an average of 2 hours and 49 minutes per day watching television in 2009, up from 2 hours and 37 minutes in 2007.

We are indeed a nation of couch potatoes, spending huge amounts of time in front of the TV. Interesting. I thought that TV was dying and everyone was on the computer instead, perhaps watching YouTube.

Every age group in the study averages 2 hours or more of TV on weekdays. Even the employed watch 1.92 hours, while the unemployed log 3.73 hours of viewing.

More facts

However, “playing games and computer use for leisure” averages less than an hour a day for every age group, with those ages 15 to 19 spending .84 hours in this activity, at least twice the time for any other age group.

We sleep an average of 8 hours and 40 minutes. That seems extreme to me . . . except that they are including the very old and the very ill.

We devote only 12 minutes a day to telephone calls, mail and email. Sounds low to me, though I assume that Facebook, etc. is lumped into “leisure and sports” (2 hours and 26 minutes daily).

And work and work-related activities claim 3 hours and 32 minutes a day, down from 3 hours and 49 minutes two years earlier.

What do these figures mean?

To the Journal the significance is that with higher unemployment figures, more people have more spare time. And they are wasting more time on TV and excessive sleep rather than volunteering, religious activities, exercise or education.

These figures also mean that the overall data, as issued by the Labor Department, are so inclusive that they fail to mean much. Ages 15 to 100 or even older encompasses such diverse populations that the results leave something to be desired.

Data technicalities (keep reading if you’re into this sort of thing)

The original story in the Journal also reveals that one of the most sophisticated publications in broad circulation limits its analysis to overall figures. A little scrolling through the Labor Department’s actual press release provides a breakdown of data by age, employment status, children in the household and other variables, but it doesn’t look like WSJ read the whole thing. And cross tabs, combining variables such as data for the unemployed under age 65, would provide even greater insight.

Now back to this TV thing

Drilling down a bit through the Labor press release reveals that with increasing age comes more television. On weekdays, the average person age 75 or older watches TV for over 4 and one-half hours. In addition, those who are not employed spend lots more time in front of the set. (Note that the problem of unemployed people watching more television may be overstated because some of the unemployed are actually older people who consider themselves to be retired.)

Originally posted 6-27-10

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