- Every day, the planet's roughly 8 billion people collectively experience 190 billion unique hours of human life.
- In a recent analysis, researchers from McGill University aggregated years of data to map out the average human day.
- By assembling this "human chronome," the researchers hope that we can make more informed decisions about how we use our collective time.
Roughly eight billion humans live on the planet, and each one experiences the 24 hours of the day a little differently. That amounts to 190 billion unique hours of human life lived during each rotation of the Earth.
While each of us has a decent conception of how we spend our own time, the actions of our fellow humans — from our next-door neighbors to people living in faraway countries — can seem quite mysterious. Do they watch as much TV? Work as many hours? Fiddle with their smartphones as frequently? Cook as often? Spend as much time watching their kids?
Simply stated, what does the average human do every day?
9 hours of sleep, 2.6 hours of work
In an unprecedented analysis recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers from McGill University attempted to answer that question. They aggregated data from 145 countries collected between 2000 and 2019. The data included time use surveys, national statistics of employment and working time, and international records of youth education and employment. This herculean effort revealed what the researchers termed the “global human day” — that is, “a complete estimate of what humans are doing, averaged over time and across the entire population.”
So what does this global human day look like?
First and foremost, the average human spends about 9.1 hours sleeping or resting. That might seem like a lot to the sleep-deprived adults out there, but remember that the study includes data from children as young as newborns, who catch a lot of Zs.
While awake, the average person spends close to one-third of their day on passive, interactive, and social activities. These roughly 4.6 hours include reading, watching TV, making art, playing games, going to gatherings with friends or family, or simply doing nothing at all. Eating and food preparation accounts for another 2.5 hours. Hygiene, including grooming, washing, and dressing, takes about 1.1 hours. Cleaning and maintaining the spaces we inhabit costs us 0.8 hours of the day.
Though employment can be hugely time-consuming for working individuals, when looked at through the lens of the global human day, it appears as a mere sliver of time, just 2.6 hours. Education also isn’t very demanding, only 1.1 hours. And fascinatingly, crafting goods, building homes and infrastructure, and mining and gathering the requisite materials for these endeavors takes 0.8 hours of the average human day. Think about that: Our homes, all the things we surround ourselves with, and the cities and towns where we live, require just 3% of our collective time to create.
The researchers were also curious about how average human time use changes with wealth. They found some glaring disparities. Residents of the highest-income countries spend about 1.5 more hours each day than residents of the lowest-income countries on experiences, such as meals, physical recreation, and general leisure activities. Additionally, people in the richest countries spend an average of just five minutes a day growing and harvesting food, while people in the poorest countries spend well over an hour doing so.
But the researchers found a lot of commonalities, too. Across the world, we all tend to spend about the same amount of time eating, preparing food, transporting ourselves, and grooming and washing.
The Human Chronome Project
The immense analysis constituted the first published data of the Human Chronome Project, an effort to create a database of global human activities. By assembling the human chronome, the researchers say that we can compare ourselves to civilizations from the past. More importantly, we can see from a high-level, empirical perspective what our species is doing on our planet and make more informed decisions about reallocating our collective time to change the world and society for the better.
“Understanding how the global human system functions is crucial if we are to sustainably navigate planetary boundaries, adapt to rapid technological change such as artificial intelligence, and achieve global development goals,” the researchers wrote.
“Time, it has been said, is the coin of life — and in a globally connected society, it is essential to have a thorough global understanding of how that coin is spent.”