Who We Spend Our Time With As We Age

A lot of things change as we get older. Most people think of physical abilities, cognition, wisdom, and money. But what about time? Not how much we have left, but who we spend it with.

Who We Spend Our Time With As We Age
3 Generations. Years born from left to right (1942, 1965, 1996).

A lot of things change as we get older. Most people think of physical abilities, cognition, wisdom, and money. But what about time? Not how much we have left, but who we spend it with. Our World in Data recently published results on the average time spent with others (measured in minutes/day) based on averages from surveys spanning from 2009 to 2019. Let's talk about it and see what we can learn from our elders this time.

Who Americans spend their time with, by age
Average time spent with others is measured in minutes per day, and recorded by the age of the respondent. This is based on averages from surveys spanning 2009 to 2019.

At 15 years of age, life is a bit hectic. You're probably riding your bike around town, trying to figure out high school, and have no idea what to say when people ask what you want to be when you grow up. Even so, who we spend our time with is pretty predictable at this age. Most of our time is spent with family, alone, or with friends. Note that spending time alone is a standard across all ages, but it may surprise you how much alone time we get as we age (see the graph above).

Now let's double our years and see what it's like to be 30 years old. We already spend more time alone than with anyone else. We spend the next most amount of time with co-workers, followed by children, then partners. This can be a big change from our late teens to early 20s when time spent with family was still very high, but on an inevitable downturn.

Taking a step back to 20 years old, when time with family is still near its peak

Now let's take a quick stop at 39 years of age, which is where spending time with our children comes to a peak. Here starts the journey towards an empty nest, something which is both dreaded and celebrated. Either way, the timeline where you spend the most time with your kids may be much shorter than you thought.

Parents (both born 1965)

By the time you turn 59 years old, the time you spend with your children will be 4 times less on average than when you were 39. This tends to be one statistic that many parents wish they could change. This is also the age when time with co-workers starts to steadily decline and time with your partner takes a sharp incline towards its peak at 73 years of age.

At this point, we've had a good long career and I think it's time to retire or take a step back from work. Looking at the statistics for Americans 65 years of age, the vast majority of our time is spent alone. The next most amount of time is spent with our partners, which is still on the rise, then family. Still, there are plenty of family events to attend, like your grandaughter's wedding!

For our last jump, let's see what it's like to be 79. We are spending more time than ever alone. Time with our partners has taken a severe hit, mostly due to loss of life. Perhaps sadder still, time with our children has never been lower and here we see the bottom of a steady decline that started at 39 years of age. But as you can see below, there's still plenty to celebrate and family to love.

Grandpa (born 1942) and Grandma (born 1944)

The purpose of this post is multifaceted. For starters, it was a personal trip down memory lane as I reflect on the time I've spent with loved ones over the years. Secondly, let this act as a reminder to call your parents or your grandparents, embrace what they have to say, see what lessons can be learned, and make sure that you aren't taking their time on this Earth for granted. Lastly, regardless of how old you are, these are just statistics. If you don't like them, it's completely in your power to make your situation different.

I might not know much about what it's like to be old, but I know without a doubt that time spent with family, friends, and children is precious. I hope to live my life accordingly. If you know someone that seems to have forgotten that, send this their way! Don't let politics or petty squabbles get in the way of important relationships. Don't let a Facebook post prevent you from talking to your siblings. Rather, focus on the things you share in common. Learn to let go, accept what you perceive as faults, and refuse to take them for granted.

Lastly, take one more good look at that graph... We might have less time than we realize to sort out our priorities. Act now.