Retirement is supposed to be when we have all the time in the world — so what do people actually do with it?
The Bureau of Labor Statistics American Time Use Survey tracks and estimates the way Americans spend their hours, including people age 65 and older, who include many retirees. Randomly selected individuals are interviewed “only one time about how they spent their time on the previous day, where they were, and whom they were with.”
These estimates don’t account for activities that are often done together — for instance, listening to music while cleaning. That means many categories can overlap and don’t “add up” to a 24-hour day.
The estimates are also calculated based on people who participate in an activity. That means, for example, the estimated hours seniors spend watching TV is based only on senior TV watchers who watched television during the period they were surveyed. It is not based on all seniors, some of whom watch infrequently or don’t even own TVs. So if some estimates seem high, that may be one reason why.
It also means that this is not a perfect representation of a typical day for seniors. Instead, the survey shows how long they spend on common activities when they decide to do them.
Despite those caveats, the data paints an interesting picture of daily life for retirees. We combed through the numbers, and the following is a look at some of the most time-consuming ways seniors spend their time.
Average number of hours seniors spend on this activity: 1.77 per day
The “housework” category includes things such as laundry, storing things (including putting away groceries) and cleaning the interior of the home. It doesn’t include cooking, maintenance or yardwork.
Attending religious services
Average number of hours seniors spend on this activity: 1.85 per day
This category includes time spent traveling to and from services and may include time spent participating in choirs. It does not necessarily count religious-affiliated volunteer activities.
This activity may be becoming less common, as we explain in “4 American Values That Are Fading Fast.” Just 39% of Americans in a recent survey said religion is “very important” to them.
Average number of hours seniors spend on this activity: 1.96 per day
Seniors average about two hours per day socializing and communicating with others in person. (Email, phone calls and video calls are in other categories.) If you exclude attending social events, the average is 1.83 hours.
Spending time with loved ones is the No. 1 source of fulfillment and meaning for retirees.
Average number of hours seniors spend on this activity: 1.98 per day
Seniors also average about two hours per day reading things of personal interest. Reading is an excellent and often free way to maintain a sharp mind in retirement.
Lawn and garden care
Average number of hours seniors spend on this activity: 2.07 per day
This category does not include maintenance tasks like cleaning out gutters but does include care of houseplants.
Even if you’ve never gardened before, it can be a rewarding and money-saving activity in retirement. Learn “How to Start a Vegetable Garden on the Cheap.”
Average number of hours seniors spend on this activity: 2.08 per day
This category excludes sports but includes all types of computer, video, card and board games.
Average number of hours seniors spend on this activity: 2.43 per day
This category covers educational classes of all kinds, plus travel to and from school. Many colleges and universities offer free courses to seniors, as we explain in “13 Things Retirees Can Get for Free — or Almost Free.”
Average number of hours seniors spend on this activity: 2.47 per day
Nearly two-thirds of seniors who volunteer describe themselves as happy. Opportunities abound: Check out “11 Ways to Give Back to Your Community After Retiring” for ideas that appeal to you.
Average number of hours seniors spend on this activity: 5.02 per day
Many seniors are content to lounge on the couch and watch a few good shows or films, and they’ve certainly earned the rest.
One of the nice things about TV is that the classics are often on free streaming services, rather than those that require subscriptions.
Average number of hours seniors spend on this activity: 6.67 per day
Not all seniors are retired. And money isn’t the only reason they stay employed. As we explain in “7 Reasons Workers Age 65 and Older Have Not Retired Yet,” many see it as a way to avoid loneliness and boredom. And some of them are just having a good time.
Average number of hours seniors spend on this activity: 9.12 per day
The most popular thing seniors do is pretty self-explanatory. How often have we all wished we could hit the snooze button and avoid obligations like work and driving the kids to school?
But if you’re curious, nine hours is not the optimal amount of sleep for older adults.