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Nov. 17, 2004


U.S. children and teens spend more time on academics

ANN ARBOR, Mich—American children and teens spend about 4 hours a week on homework and attend school for about 32.5 hours a week, according to a University of Michigan study that provides a detailed snapshot of the way school-age children spend their time.

That's about 7.5 hours a week more than children ages 6-17 spent on academics 20 years ago.

The U-M study is based on a nationally representative sample of 2,907 children and adolescents. It offers the first look in more than two decades at how the nation's teens spend their time, showing that while some patterns of time use have changed considerably, others have remained much the same.

For example, today's children and teens spend more than 14 hours a week watching television—almost as much time as children did 20 years ago. They spend 2.75 hours a week using home computers—a category of time-use that didn't exist in the early '80s. But contemporary kids spend much less time outside and engaging in organized sports.

Conducted by economists F. Thomas Juster and Frank Stafford and sociologist Hiromi Ono at the U-M Institute for Social Research (ISR), the study was funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. It is part of the larger Panel Study of Income Dynamics, funded primarily by the National Science Foundation and conducted by the ISR since 1968.

“Major changes have taken place in how children and teens spend their time,” Stafford said. “For example, children ages 6-8 spend almost 7 hours a day in school today, compared with about 5 hours a day 20 years ago.”

Children are also spending more than two hours more a week engaged in personal care—bathing and grooming themselves and taking care of others, including younger siblings.

For the study, researchers asked children age 10 and older to fill out time diaries for two randomly selected days—one weekend day and one weekday. Younger children were asked to fill out the time diaries with help from their parents.

Among the highlights:

Gender differences: Girls spend an average of 6 hours a week playing, compared to 10 hours a week for boys between the ages of 6 and 17. Girls also spend less time than boys participating in sports. They spend almost two hours a week more than boys engaged in household work and in personal care, and nearly an hour more a week studying. Boys spend an hour more than girls each week watching television.

Computer time: About three-quarters of children have home access to computers and the Internet. Computer time at home averages about five hours a week for those ages 12-17. Children in families with home computers and Internet access spend much less time watching television—about 7 hours a week less for teens ages 15-17. They also spend more time studying.

Sedentary vs. physical activity: Children and teens are spending almost two hours less a week on average on sports and outdoor activities, while they are spending more time on sedentary activities including television, home computers, reading and just doing nothing. “This shift to greater sedentary time may be a contributing factor to the rise in childhood obesity,” Stafford said.

Age differences in time use: Comparing children in early grade school to junior and senior high schoolers, Stafford and colleagues found a progressive increase in time spent on computer activities, a steady reduction in time spent sleeping and a strong increase in time spent visiting, socializing and studying out of school.

Web links:
The complete report in .PDF format (requires Acrobat or other .PDF file reader)

Time-use tables

Established in 1948, the Institute for Social Research (ISR) is among the world's oldest survey research organizations, and a world leader in the development and application of social science methodology. ISR conducts some of the most widely-cited studies in the nation, including the Survey of Consumer Attitudes, the National Election Studies, the Monitoring the Future Study, the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, the Health and Retirement Study, the Columbia County Longitudinal Study and the National Survey of Black Americans. ISR researchers also collaborate with social scientists in more than 60 nations on the World Values Surveys and other projects, and the Institute has established formal ties with universities in Poland, China, and South Africa. ISR is also home to the Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR), the world's largest computerized social science data archive. Visit the ISR Web site at for more information.

Contact: Diane Swanbrow
Phone: (734) 647-9069