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Home / More Lifestyle / Where does the time go? Check out fascinating new data on how Indians spend the day

Where does the time go? Check out fascinating new data on how Indians spend the day

Men get more time for learning and leisure. Women’s chores boom after marriage. (No surprises so far). But you’ll never guess how little time children spend reading, and adults e-mailing. Parsing new findings from the National Statistical Office.

more-lifestyle Updated: Oct 18, 2020, 10:00 IST
Team HT
Team HT
Hindustan Times
At India Gate, New Delhi. Of the two hours and 10 minutes spent on a bunch of activities which can be described as socialising and the proverbial ‘adda’, Indians spend at least one-and-a-half hours talking or chatting, according to the data.
At India Gate, New Delhi. Of the two hours and 10 minutes spent on a bunch of activities which can be described as socialising and the proverbial ‘adda’, Indians spend at least one-and-a-half hours talking or chatting, according to the data.(Biplov Bhuyan / HT Photo)

There’s comfort in the routine, as many are discovering in these most uncertain of times. And there’s comfort in routine. Which is entirely understandable. There are things that we do and things that we don’t. There are places we go to and places we don’t. At first, especially during the lockdown — 68 days between March 25 and May 31 — but even after it, this was because of rules and restrictions. We couldn’t walk in the park because it wasn’t allowed. We couldn’t ride the Metro because there were no services. And we couldn’t eat out because all restaurants were closed. Now, most restrictions are gone, but the virus isn’t — and so, smart people continue to behave as if they (the restrictions) are still around. The correct sort of routine, after all, can keep one safe.

Which is why the editors of this publication were thrilled when the National Statistical Office (NSO) released disaggregated data on how Indians spend their time – a so-called national time-use survey. The data is based on a survey conducted in 2019 in 138,000 households, across urban and rural India, and spanning ages.

Here was the Indian Everyman’s day, in its routine glory and its glorious routine. Here was, with due apologies to John, Paul, George and Ringo, a day in the life.

Woke up…

The average Indian may be lacking in many things. Sleep isn’t one of them. The Harvard University health letter cites a National Sleep Foundation study which recommends that people in the 18-64 year age-group sleep between seven to nine hours a day. It turns out that the average Indian gets at least nine hours of sleep (between the night and the afternoon siesta – something popular especially among agricultural workers who begin their day early) a day. According to the Harvard health letter, children need to sleep more, while people over the age of 64 years need seven to eight hours of sleep. TUS data shows that senior citizens aged 64 years and above in India actually tend to oversleep -- with an average sleeping time of almost 10 hours. Put simply, Indians could well be among the most sleep-rich people in the world. The data also shows that sleeplessness increases with age, especially for people over the age of 65. To be sure, the sleeplessness numbers in the survey might not be an adequate measure of insomnia among Indians. The Athens Insomnia Scale, which is widely used in medical studies, looks at more than just the time of sleep or sleeplessness, such as quality of sleep and sleepiness during the day. A 2016 study published in the Journal of Family Medicine and Primary Care had found chronic insomnia in 33% of the adult population sampled in Bengaluru.

 Watch | How India spends its days

Dragged a comb across my head...

Unfortunately, the study doesn’t segregate personal care from personal hygiene. But it emerges that the Indian male, across categories, is a vain creature, spending more time than women on personal hygiene and care -- 70.3 minutes to 65.2. Interestingly, the time spent by women between the ages of 25 and 54 on personal hygiene and care is lower than it is for younger or older women.

Drank a cup …

Indians clearly do not tarry at the table. They spend just around 90 minutes a day eating and drinking – something that renders an entirely different meaning to fast food. According to the data, of this, 20 minutes is spent drinking other than with a meal or a snack, which suggests that the ubiquitous tea break (the first to-do for the average working person) might actually be as long as the lunchbreak in India. Assuming people have three meals a day, the data shows that no meal lasts more than half an hour in India. It also suggests that men eat and drink at greater leisure compared to women. An average meal or tea-break lasts four minutes more for a man than a woman. Children devote the largest amount of time on eating, which could be the result of them taking longer to finish their meals or having a larger number of meals. As people grow older, they spend more drinking other than with a meal or snack.  

Made the bus in seconds flat…

People doing the daily Gurugram-Delhi commute may object, as may those who have a daily close encounter with that completely otherworldly thing, the Silk Board junction in Bengaluru, but commuting takes less than an hour, 41.3 minutes to be precise, of an average Indian’s day. Commute time for men is more than double of what it is for women. This is largely because women hardly travel for work. And when they do, it is often to a nearby location. An average woman spends eight minutes daily on employment-related travel, against almost 36 minutes for a man. Work-related travel also increases with income levels. It is 17.5 minutes for those belonging to the bottom 10% of Monthly Per Capita Consumption Expenditure (MPCE) class and 27.6 minutes those in the top 10% MPCE bracket. There is not much difference when it comes to commuting for work in cities (24.5 minutes) and villages (21.2 minutes).

Commuting for learning is the second biggest reason why people travel in India, and unlike work, there is not much of a gender inequality here (11 minutes for men and 8.8 minutes for women). Travel for every other reason, from socialising and for religious purposes, to self-care and maintenance activities, does not exceed even three minutes. To be sure, this need not imply that every other activity is carried out in close proximity of the home; it is probably because the survey only recorded time-use in the preceding 24 hours.

Somebody spoke and I went into a dream…

Of the two hours and 10 minutes spent on a bunch of activities which can be described as socialising and the proverbial ‘adda’, Indians spend at least one-and-a-half hours talking or chatting. Contrary to what many believe, children spend the lowest amount of time chatting during the day. Time spent on chatting increases from just above an hour in the 6-14 year age-group to 130 minutes for those over the age of 65. When it comes to socialising, participation in community rites/rituals is far more important than celebrations of cultural/historic events. As people grow richer, they are more likely to travel longer distances for socialising, captured by the fact that average travel time spent on socialising and communication, community participation and religious practices increases from 1.4 minutes to 4.1 minutes from the bottom to top decile of incomes.

I read the news today…

Of the 73.2 minutes Indians spend on consuming mass media, 65.1 minutes go in watching TV/videos. Reading for leisure and use of other mass media – the survey does not specify which of these two activities include reading newspapers -- takes around seven minutes every day. Listening to the radio and other audio devices accounts for the least time. Urban Indians spend 1.6 times more time on mass media than their rural peers. Thanks to their lead in watching TV, women consume more mass media than men even though they give less time to reading, listening to radio and audio devices. Time spent on mass media more than doubles as one moves from the bottom 10% of households by income to the top 10%. The wealth effect is the largest in reading for leisure; it increases nine times between the lowest and the highest income class.

Oh boy…

But this one may be the biggest surprise: At a time when the world is worrying about people being hooked to their smartphones, the average Indian spends only 30 seconds on reading and writing mails, including e-mails. This does not even seem to be a result of a majority of Indians living in rural areas; even urban Indians spend less than a minute on this activity.

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