New research reveals how people around the world spend their time on an average day.
Everyone has 24 hours in a day. Multiplied by the world’s population of 8 billion, this equates to approximately 190 billion man-hours each day. How we allocate these hours affects our environment and shapes our life experiences. To gain insights into how global citizens spend their time, a team from McGill University conducted a comprehensive study. They collected data on various economic and non-economic activities, providing an unprecedented view of a typical day on Earth.
„Currently, we are struggling to meet global challenges that call for new perspectives on how the world works,” says Eric Galbraith, professor of Earth system science at McGill University and senior author of the recently published study. Inside PNAS. „To navigate climate change and biodiversity loss sustainably, adapt to rapid technological change, and achieve global development goals, it is important to understand the big picture of how the global human system works. Change.”
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„We wanted to know – what would the time allocation of mankind be, on average, for all people and all countries?” William Fajzel, a Ph.D. student in Earth System Science at McGill University and the study’s first author. „In other words, if the world was an average person, what would their day look like?”
To find out, the research team analyzed time-use and labor data collected from 2000-2019 (to avoid the effects of the COVID pandemic) from more than 140 countries (87% of the world’s population).
activities and their desired results
The researchers classified all the things people do during their waking day, including work and non-work activities, depending on what the purpose of the activity is. They used 24 categories that fall into three broad groups:
- Aiming to transform the outside world (including food, energy, buildings, maintaining environments, etc.)
- Focuses directly on human minds or bodies (cleanliness, appearance, mood, and health of self and others, as well as education, religion, hobbies, socialization, sports, media, leisure, etc.)
- Organizing activities within society (such as transport, trade, finance, law and administration)
They then manually classified nearly 4,000 individual activities. And made some surprising discoveries.
Much of each day is centered around ourselves and others
The researchers found that the largest amount of time goes toward human-centered activities — just over 9 hours. Sleeping or being in bed is an additional 9 hours (the global estimate includes young people who sleep longer). Of the remaining 6 hours, growing and gathering our food, preparing it, traveling and moving, and allocative tasks (trade, finance, sales, law, administration, policing, etc.) take about 1 hour each. Waste management is only 1 minute of the world day, in contrast to the 45 minutes spent on tidying and maintaining our homes. All infrastructure and building construction is accomplished in about 15 minutes.
Surprisingly, time spent on activities such as eating, daily commuting, hygiene and grooming, and food preparation do not vary in a systematic way with the population’s material wealth. In contrast, time spent growing and gathering food varies strongly, with less than 5 minutes in wealthier countries and less than 1 hour in high-income countries.
Only one-tenth of the day is given to economic activities
As the study includes both economic and non-economic activities, each of the categories described above refers to persons engaged in economic activities for a portion of the total time – e.g., doctors and nurses, cooks and agricultural workers, etc.
The group estimates that the entire global economy occupies 2.6 hours of the average human day. This economic activity is dominated by agriculture and livestock production, followed by trade, finance and law, and appropriation activities such as manufacturing. While the total of 2.6 hours may seem small, it equates to a 40-hour work week for two-thirds of the world’s working-age (ages 15-64) workforce.
The results of the study provide a unique perspective on how economic activity fits into the overall resilience of human life on a global scale. They also suggest that there is ample opportunity to shift time allocations around certain activities such as extracting materials, providing energy and handling waste, all of which can be accomplished within seven minutes.
Reference: William Fajzel, Eric D. Galbraith, Christopher Barrington-Lee, Jack Charms, Elena Fry, Ian Hutton, Priscilla Le Meso, Ron Milo, Kelton Miner, Sinbee Wan, Veronica Xia and Shirley Xu, „World Human Day” 12 June 2023, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
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