Living Single

The truth about singles in our society.

What Married and Single People Do Differently

Now we know.

Ever wonder how the other half is spending their time? 

Since 2003, the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics has conducted continuous surveys of representative samples of Americans, 15 and older. The most recent report I could locate is from 2012. Below are some key results, sorted into three categories: (1) what married people spend more time on than single people; (2) what single and married people spend about the same amount of time on; and (3) what single people spend more time on than married people. At the end, I’ll share a few thoughts.

Here I will issue my usual words of caution: Because single and married people are compared at one point in time, we can’t know whether any differences are occurring because people are single or married. This point of caution is even more true for this survey than it is for many scholarly statistical analyses. That’s because in the academic journals, researchers try to “control for” alternative explanations. For example, if single people are over-represented in certain age groups, then any differences in how they spend their time might be explained by age differences, not marital status differences. Statistically, though, you can deal with that by doing analyses that essentially compare single and married people of the same age. The Time Use Survey results do not do that. The survey also uses a crude comparison: Everyone who is married and living with their spouse is in one group; everyone else is in the other. So, for example, people who have always been single are in the same group as people who are divorced or widowed.

Here are some key findings. See what you think:

Things MARRIED People Spend MORE Time on Than Single People

Household activities (housework, yard work, preparing meals, car maintenance, etc.; does not include child care)

  • Married people: 2 hours, 4 minutes per day
  • Single people: 1 hour, 24 minutes per day

Buying things (food, gas, goods, services—everything people buy, whether in person, online, or any other way)

  • Married people: 47 minutes a day
  • Single people: 40 minutes a day

Eating and drinking (alone or with others, at home or elsewhere, not including work-related meals)

  • Married people: 1 hour, 20 minutes a day
  • Single people: 1 hour, 9 minutes a day

Working (at home or at a workplace; includes travel to work and informal activities for generating income, such as yard sales; also includes work-related meals and activities)

[Note: I think the numbers appear low because weekends are included, and because the youngest and oldest people may not be working at all.]

  • Married people: 3 hours, 56 minutes
  • Single people: 3 hours, 7 minutes

Religious and civic activities (going to church, praying, going to town hall meetings, etc.)

  • Married people: 23 minutes a day
  • Single people: 16 minutes a day

 

Things Single and Married People Spend the SAME Amount of Time on

Caring for and helping people who are not in your household: 11 minutes for both single and married people (Married people spend more time helping people within their households, but since about 33 million people don’t have anyone else in their household—they live alone—that’s not a relevant comparison)

 

Things SINGLE People Spend MORE Time on Than Married People

Educational activities (taking classes, whether for credit or for personal interest; doing research, homework, etc.)

  • Single people: 56 minutes a day
  • Married people: 5 minutes a day

Personal care (sleeping, taking care of your health, grooming, etc.)

  • Single people: 9 hours, 47 minutes
  • Married people: 9 hours, 13 minutes

Staying in touch with other people, not in person (calling, emailing, mailing, not for work-related reasons)

  • Single people: 12 minutes a day
  • Married people: 7 minutes a day

Socializing, sports, leisure (exercising, playing sports, socializing and communicating face-to-face, watching TV, listening to music, playing computer games, reading, thinking) [Note: I’ll probably write a post for one of my other blogs on the different subcategories]

  • Single people: 5 hours, 48 minutes
  • Married people: 4 hours, 57 minutes

 

Some Thoughts

Consistent with lots of other research, these findings again debunk the myth of the isolated single person. Singles spend more time in touch with other people, both in person and through other media. It also debunks the materialistic myth about singles—it is married people who spend more time buying stuff.

Single and married people spend the same amount of time caring for people not in their own household. However, in other ways, married life seems more filled with dutiful things (some might call them drudgery) such as chores and grocery shopping. Singles spend more time learning, socializing, and exercising.

For more on the ways in which single and married people often do not differ at all, see “Everything you think you know about the benefits of marrying is wrong: The evidence,” as well as Singled Out.

Bella DePaulo, Ph.D., is author of Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After. She is a visiting professor at UCSB.

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