This year, the average American will spend 3,518 hours (nearly five months) watching TV, surfing the Internet, listening to the radio and reading. That's a prediction from The Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2007. This is the 126th edition of the Statistical Abstract, which is published annually by the U.S. Census Bureau.
Statistician Lars Johansen says the 2007 edition is a far cry from the first one, published in the late 1800s. "Now, of course, there are many more things that are available," he points out. "For example, statistics on the use of leisure time. There are statistics on the composition of household and families, which was not available on the first edition of the Abstract."
As the Abstract has expanded over the years, it has presented an increasingly complete picture of America's changing social, political and economic life. For example, Johansen says, the latest statistics reflect the growing emphasis on higher education, with a threefold increase in the percentage of college graduates over the last half-century. "In the year 1960, about 8 percent of the population, 25 years and over, had completed college. By the year 2005, 28 percent of the population 25 and over completed college. Even in terms of high school graduates, [there was] a similar increase over that period of time; in 1960 it was 41 percent for high school graduates and in 2005, 85 percent."
He says it's also possible to see how young Americans' objective in life has changed over time. "In the year 2005, the majority of college freshmen, 75 percent of them, said their primary objective was to be very well-off financially. However, back in 1970, the majority of the college freshmen, 79 percent, had as an important personal objective to develop a meaningful philosophy of life."
The Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2007 also presents a picture of how Americans spend their leisure time. Johansen says for much of that time, they'll be "plugged in." "One private group did a forecast that for 2007, people will spend 65 days watching TV, 41 days listening to radio and a little over a week surfing the Internet, they will also spend about a week reading the daily newspapers. Teens will also spend maybe another week listening to recorded music."
iPods and the Internet weren't a part of life a quarter-century ago, and according to Leo Kivijarv, with PQ Media, one of the private groups that collect data for the Abstract, that's changed the way Americans access their information and entertainment. "If you were looking at the average American in 1975, as an example, they really only had eight basic choices in where to use the media," he says. "Today, in terms of different devices etc, there are up to approximately 25 different devices that they can access their media through."
And, he adds, they can access all those media devices almost anywhere. "For example, if you were to take an airplane in 1975, you really didn't have access to many types of media except for reading a book, a magazine or a newspaper. Now, a person on the some airlines actually has access to in-flight entertainment, while others will be using their computers to access the DVDs that they might have brought along with them." They might even check out the Abstract itself. It's available on-line.
While many teachers and historians use the information in the Abstract for educational and academic purposes, there is commercial value in all that data, too. The various statistics allow business people and marketers to learn more about their potential customers and how to reach them. And everyone else might enjoy spending some of that predicted week of Internet time surfing through the Abstract, for an entertaining and informative look at where the nation is going.