This article originally appeared in The New York Times.
© 2021 The New York Times Company
Last year was the year of sourdough baking and jigsaw puzzles — and of trying to work with a toddler screaming in the same room. It was the year of commuting from the bedroom to the living room for those able to work from home, and of harrowing, masked bus rides for many of those who had to go to work in person. It was a year of profound loneliness for those trapped in nursing homes, and of too much togetherness for those quarantining in too-small apartments.
It was a year, in other words, when the pandemic changed life for everyone, but in different ways.
The American Time Use Survey every year asks thousands of people to track every minute of a single day. Most years, the data reflects the ways in which changes in technology, society and the economy subtly shift how we spend our days. For 2020, it reflected the sudden rupture of daily life.
The Labor Department, which oversees the survey, paused data collection in mid-March last year because of the coronavirus outbreak, and didn’t resume it until mid-May. That means the year’s data is missing the most intense period of lockdowns and business closings last year. But it offers a glimpse of how we adapted to a different way of living as the pandemic dragged on, when we were left to figure out how to shop, work, entertain ourselves and connect with others in brand-new and perhaps enduring ways. And it shows how those adaptations and disruptions varied across groups.
Beyond work and school
People last year spent far less waking time — 1 1/2 hours less, on average — with people outside their own household. For people who didn’t live with anyone else, in particular, that meant a lot of time by themselves — more than 20 hours a day either asleep or alone, on average.