Virus's effect: Less socializing, more relaxation and thinking

COVID-19 caused nearly a double in the number of Americans to work from home last year. The shift was most noticeable among college graduates and professionals in finance and professional services.

Virus's effect: Less socializing, more relaxation and thinking

COVID-19 caused nearly a double in the number of Americans to work from home last year. The shift was most noticeable among college graduates and professionals in finance and professional services.

23 July 2021 Friday 06:52
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Virus's effect: Less socializing, more relaxation and thinking

According to the Labor Department, the share of employees who work from home grew from 22% in 2019 and 22% in 2019, to 42% by 2020.

This was one of the striking results of an annual government survey which documents the profound impact that the viral pandemic had on Americans' daily lives since March last year. The American Time Use Survey details how people spent their time in 2020, from working to relaxing to sleeping. All survey participants are aged 15 and over. They are interviewed via phone about what they did during the 24-hour period before the interview. The 2020 report covers only May to December after data collection was suspended earlier in the year due to the virus.

Due to the pandemic and widespread social distancing, people spent more time last year relaxing, thinking, and watching TV than they did in 2019. They also spent less time communicating with others and socializing in person. On average, adults spent more time caring for their children than they did in 2019.

This survey supports the concern that the pandemic has increased isolation for millions of Americans. People who work from home and go to school online saw an increase in the amount of time they spend alone. The average American ages 15-19 increased their time alone by about an hour each day. It rose by 1.7 hours for those aged 15-19.

The percentage of workers who had at least a bachelor’s degree between 25-54 reported that 65% of them worked from home during the 24-hour survey period in 2020, up 28 percentage points from 2019. In contrast, only 19%, or 13%, of employed workers in the same age group who have a minimum education of a high school diploma, reported working at home in 2020.

It was more common to transition to remote work in those sectors of the economy where there is face-to-face contact, specialized equipment or leisure and hospitality than it was in those that don't.

The share of women working remotely increased for both men as well as women. However, it was slightly lower among women who are employed. In 2020, the share of women who work from home increased by 23 percent, compared to a 16% increase for men.

Americans spend less time traveling, whether they are working or at home. From 2019 to 2020, the average travel time, including commuting, fell by 26 minutes.

Liana C. Sayer is the director of the Maryland Time Use Laboratory, University of Maryland. She suggested that Americans have become more flexible in setting their work hours and that they may be more open to being accommodated by employers.

Sayer stated that workers have responded to surveys by companies and other research organizations that they would prefer the freedom to work from home, and be able set their start and end times as it suits their needs. "Some people are indicating that they don’t want to return to the way things were before the pandemic."

The Labor Department's annual survey aims to determine how Americans spend their time. According to the latest data, the increase in child care time in 2020 was due to the elimination of in-person instruction, sports, and other events for children. The average adult with a youngest child aged 6-12 spent 1.6 more hours per day caring for a child and doing something else than they did in 2019.

In 2020, however, there were fewer parents who provided child care for their children. This could have been due to a decrease in the time spent picking up and dropping off children at in-person activities.

Data also revealed that there were increased gender differences in child-care: In 2020, women spent 13 minutes more per day on direct care of their children than in 2019, while men spent about the same time in 2020.

In 2020, women spent 46 minutes longer than men on education-related activities for their children. These activities were roughly equal in time spent by men and women in 2019.

The Brookings Institution conducted an analysis of survey data and found that mothers with children under 12 years old spent on average more than eight hours caring for their children. Brookings also found that working mothers spent 7.4 hours caring for children on weekdays in 2020. This was more than the time of employed fathers, unemployed fathers, and fathers who are not in the labor force.

Lauren Bauer, Brookings fellow in economic studies, said that child care is now a full time job for mothers. They are now spending eight hours per day caring for children, which has impacted their work hours. They are now working less even though they have to juggle both their child care responsibilities as well as their work,

Many businesses were closed due to public health recommendations. The survey showed that people spend less time at bars, restaurants and grocery stores, and more time at home. The survey found that people aged 15 years and older spent more time with their own family members than they did in 2019, and less with others.

In 2020, people spent 32 minutes more per day on leisure and sports -- partly due to the drop in travel and employment during the pandemic. They also watched more TV, and got a few extra minutes of sleep each night.

Daniel Hamermesh of Barnard College, who studies the economics and time use, said that "if people are well-rested I don't believe that's the most terrible thing in the world." "I support more leisure. This doesn't mean that there is anything wrong with the economy that we don't already know.



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