A Global Look at How People Spend Their Time
We all have the same 24 hours in a day, but we don’t spend them the same way. Some prioritize family time or household chores, while others cherish a good night’s sleep or seeing friends.
This chart from Our World in Data compares the average time allocated across various day-to-day activities, from paid work to leisurely activities.
The data for the 33 countries profiled come from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)’s Time Use database, for ages 15 through 64 years old.
Countries with the Highest Time Spent Per Activity
As the chart shows, basic patterns—work, rest, and play—emerge across the board.
When it comes to paid work, Japan emerges the highest on this list with approximately 5.5 hours per day. However, this country also has some of the highest overtime in a workweek. In contrast, European countries such as France and Spain report nearly half the same hours (less than 3 hours) of paid work per day on average.
Certain trends, however, transcend cultural boundaries. Those in Mexico find themselves spending significant portions of the day (3 hours or more) on housework, as do those in Portugal.
|Activity category||Country with highest time spent||Time spent in minutes|
|Paid work||🇯🇵 Japan||326 (Approx. 5.5 hrs)|
|Education||🇰🇷 South Korea||57|
|Care for household members||🇮🇪 Ireland||61|
|Housework||🇲🇽 Mexico||187 (Approx. 3 hrs)|
|Other unpaid work & volunteering||🇯🇵 Japan||98 (Approx. 1.5 hrs)|
|Sleep||🇿🇦 South Africa||553 (Approx. 9 hrs)|
|Eating||🇫🇷 France||133 (Approx. 2 hours)|
|Personal care||🇫🇷 France||107 (Approx. 1 hr 45 min)|
|Attending events||🇮🇪 Ireland||42|
|Seeing friends||🇿🇦 South Africa||82|
|TV and radio||🇺🇸 U.S.||148 (Approx. 2.5 hrs)|
(Religious/ civic duties, or unspecified)
|🇳🇴 Norway||154 (Approx. 2.5 hrs)|
As the saying goes, all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. In the realm of leisure activities, those in the U.S. spend approximately 2.5 hours consuming media in a day, a number that has risen even higher during the pandemic.
Meanwhile, another interesting cultural pattern is that people in France spend the most time eating, approximately 2 hours per day. These durations are similar to those in other Mediterranean countries such as Greece, Italy, and Spain—perhaps because meals are viewed as a social activity in these cultures.
Gender Disparities in Time Spent
Digging deeper, another way to look at how people spend their time globally is through the lens of gender.
Women spend nearly three times more in unpaid care work compared to men—a whopping total of 1.1 trillion hours each year—which means a lot less leisure time. This inequality is clearly defined by country in the following scatterplot:
In Norway, both men and women have equally high levels of leisure time—though it’s a rare example of such a case.
Meanwhile, in countries like India or China, significant gender gaps prevent women from moving up the socioeconomic ladder, potentially costing trillions of dollars to the global economy.
Visualizing Population Density Patterns in Six Countries
These maps show the population density of several countries, using 3D spikes to denote where more people live.
As of 2022, Earth has 8 billion humans. By 2050, the population is projected to grow to 10 billion.
In the last 50 years, the global population more than quadrupled. But none of this growth has been evenly spread out, including within countries.
This series of 3D maps from Terence Teo, an associate professor at Seton Hall University, renders the population density of six countries using open-source data from Kontur Population. He used popular programming language R and a path-tracing package, Rayshader, to create the maps.
France and Germany: Population Density Spikes and Troughs
Let’s take a look at how the population spreads out in different countries around the world. Click the images to explore higher-resolution versions.
France is the world’s 7th largest economy and second-most-populous country in the EU with 65 million people. But a staggering one-fifth of the French population lives in Paris and its surrounding metro—the most populous urban area in Europe.
Many residents in the Paris metropolitan area are employed in the service sector, which makes up one-third of France’s $2.78 trillion gross domestic product.
Unlike France, Germany has many dense cities and regions, with Berlin, Munich, Stuttgart, and Cologne all having over a million residents. Berlin is the most populated at 3.5 million residents in the city proper, and 6 million in the wider urban area.
That said, the relatively recent reunification of West and East Germany in 1991 meant that post-WWII growth was mostly concentrated in West Germany (and West Berlin).
Italy and Chile: Coast to Coast
In Italy, another phenomenon affects population density and urban development—a sprawling coastline.
Despite having a large population of 59 million and large metropolitan areas throughout, Italy’s population spikes are closer to the water.
The port cities of Genoa, Napoli, and Palermo all have large spikes relative to the rest of the country, as does the capital, Rome. Despite its city center located 15 miles inland from the sea, it extends to the shore through the district of Ostia, where the ancient port of Rome existed.
Meanwhile in Chile, stuck between the Andes to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west, population spikes corroborate with its many port towns and cities.
However, the country is more concentrated than Italy, with 40% of its residents congregating around the capital of Santiago.
Turkey and Canada: Marred by Mountains and Climes
Though Chile has difficulties with terrain, it is relatively consistent. Other countries have to attempt to settle many different climes—regions defined by their climates.
Mountains to the south and east, a large, semi-arid plateau, and even a small desert leave few centers of urban growth in Türkiye.
Predictably, further west, as the elevation comes down to the Aegean and Mediterranean Seas, population spikes begin to heighten. The largest of course is the economic and cultural hub of Istanbul, though the capital Ankara is also prominent with more than 5 million residents.
In Canada, the Rocky Mountains to the west and freezing cold temperatures in the center and north account for the large country’s relative emptiness.
Though population spikes in Western Canada are growing rapidly, highly populous urban centers are noticeably concentrated along the St. Lawrence River, with the Greater Toronto Area accounting for more than one-sixth of the country’s 39 million people.
According to the World Bank, more than half of the world’s population currently lives in cities, and that trend is only growing.
By 2050, 7 out of 10 people are projected to live in cities. This congregation makes cities a beehive of productivity and innovation—with more than 80% of the world’s GDP being generated at these population centers.
It’s in this context that mapping and studying urban development becomes all the more important, particularly as policymakers try their hand at sustainable urban planning.
As Teo puts it:
“By showing where people are (and are not), they show us where political and economic power is concentrated, and perhaps where and who our governments represent.”
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