We are endowed with 24 hours each day. That, in a sense, makes us all equal. However, if we have it, money can be substituted for time. Thus, from here to there, the poor man walks for a longer time than the rich man rides. Our use of time is, partly, a measure of the value we place on an activity.
Most economic information about us is expressed as money spent by individuals and households. We are called consumers. In truth, we are both consumers and investors. An automobile and a lamp are both investments which we will use in varying amounts over many years. Or which we won’t use, but will have the option to use, which itself has value.
Economists have been occupied for generations trying to put a dollar figure on time spent. What’s the value of outdoor recreation? When I started studying economics, 60 years ago, that was a hot topic. It remains so today.
The easy answer was the value of an hour taken for a walk is equal to the income foregone if that person had been at work. As with all easy answers, it was a grotesque misrepresentation of reality. But decision makers (legislators and foundation grantors) feel the need for metrics no matter how bad.
But what if no one walks in the park? Is the park worthless? No, every citizen has the option to walk in the park and that option has unmeasured value.
Note, I said unmeasured, not unmeasurable. Eager and bright researchers will conduct studies where participants (subjects) will be asked questions designed to determine monetary value. Published, those values will be accepted by other researchers and the decision makers until they become facts to be adjusted for inflation, seasonality, and used forevermore.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) publishes annual reports on how Americans use their time. Other nations have similar studies and there is a Centre for Time Use Research at the University College London.
The BLS data reports that in 2008 Americans age 15 and older slept 8:37 hours per day on average. In 2018, our sleeping time increased to 8.49 hours. Is that increase of 12 minutes because we are older, younger, more self-indulgent, more depressed, living closer to our places of work, or driving faster?
The time we spend eating and drinking (1:10 per day) has dropped in 2018 from 2008 by two minutes. We simply gobble and go. Those two minutes a day are going to care for older adults in our households, now up to 1:23 per day, for those who engage in such care.
How will our allocation of time change by the experiences we’ve had, and will have further, with our coronavirus quarantine? Have we learned new and better ways to use our time?