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How Do Single and Married People Spend Their Time?

Most people know better than to ask why I am single, as if there is something wrong with that. There is, though, a different question that people wonder about when they learn that I am single — what do I do with my time?

I can do better than to tell you just about me. The U.S. Census Bureau conducts an annual American Time Use Survey, in which more than 26,000 people answer questions about how they spent their time on the previous day. Households are chosen from every state in the nation. If more than one person lives in the household, one participant is selected at random from the people who are 15 and older. The most recent data available are from 2017 and are posted at the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

For people interested in how people of different marital statuses spend their time, the reporting only offers answers in broad strokes. I’d like to see the results for different kinds of unmarried people (never married, divorced, widowed, cohabiting) reported separately, but the findings are presented only for two categories: (1) married people (and only if they are living with their spouse) and (2) everyone else. Also, the analyses simply compare all of the married people to all of the people who are not married, without trying to take into account other ways the groups might differ. That means we can’t know whether it is marital status that matters most, or something else, such as the participants’ age, their financial status, whether they are working, or whether they have kids in the house.

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