The relaxed Westerner, the hard-working Ostler and the quiet Midwest are regional stereotypes of the United States. Are they entering into force in an age of increasing television-induced homogenization of American culture? Surprisingly, they still do.
There are striking differences in the way people spend their time, especially when we control other differences, such as education, age, big city life, race, and ethnicity.
The average American adult works 28 hours a week, spending over 60 hours a week with sleep and 18 hours watching television. This comes from a running government poll that collects 1,000 daily diaries from random citizens every month. The graph below shows that Southerners sleep an additional 0.6 hours per week compared to people in the Northeast. Midwest work 20 minutes longer each week than people in the northeast; and Westerners work almost an hour less each week than the Midwest.
Southerners are the regional champions of television and spend an extra 1
What is responsible for these differences? Maybe people who want to enjoy the western lifestyle will move to the West. However, differences may also be due to the opportunities that people face.
Nearly half of Westerners are Californians. and maybe, as Joe Jones sang in 1960, "they have fun out there in the warm Californian sun." Why do you stay indoors and watch TV like other Americans when the climate makes outdoor recreation so inviting? Maybe the temperature and the clear skies give the Californians and other Westerners a good reason to enjoy the time outside.
Our location stereotypes are not just about regions, they are also about individual cities. For example, we think of the very short duration of the "New York Minute," which, as Johnny Carson said, is the time between a green traffic light and the other drivers who beckon to you.
New Yorkers spend their lives differently than in the four largest American cities (Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston and Philadelphia). They work more than one hour a week more than other city dwellers, they watch almost an hour less television a week and spend over half an hour doing less housework than people in the other big cities.
These differences could also arise from the incentives that a metropolis offers. Why cook or shop when "takeaway" or delivery is available? Why spend a lot of time watching TV when there are so many cultural events available? People spend their time partially responding to the surrounding conditions – with the attractiveness and cost of the various activities they could undertake.
Stereotypes exist because they have a touch of truth, but they are not completely true – one of the reasons why we should always be careful when we use them. The regional differences are partially correct. There are remarkable and notable differences in how Americans spend their time. Americans are definitely pluribus, but they are also essential.
Daniel S. Hamermesh is Distinguished Fellow at Barnard College, New York City and Network Director at the Institute for Labor Studies in Bonn. This is adapted from his book "Spend Time: The Most Valuable Resource".
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