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JACK SMITH ON SUNDAY

Not-So-Vital Statistics : Could It Be True That Five Years of Our Lives Are Spent Waiting in Line?

January 15, 1989|JACK SMITH

I TEND TO BE depressed by statistics. They reflect such flaws in our society: 33% of us are illiterate; the average person spends six hours a day watching television; half of all marriages end in divorce.

Our appetite for statistics is bottomless; though many are not even attributed, we never seem to question them.

The other day, for example, my wife showed me a piece in Family Circle magazine about the amount of time we spend on various activities. The figures were fascinating, but I finally decided I couldn't believe them.

For example, it stated that in one lifetime the average American spends eight months opening junk mail. I doubt that. I don't think anyone opens more junk mail than I do. Actually, my wife opens it; I just throw it away. So at the most I spend only an hour a week on junk mail. I have been receiving junk mail in large quantities for only the last 20 years. An hour a week for 20 years is only 1,040 hours. There are only 720 hours in most months. So, I have spent about a month and a half opening junk mail. That's bad enough.

The article also says that we spend six years of our lives consuming food and drink and five years waiting in lines; housework takes another four years.

Since the time spent consuming food and drink must be considered leisure time, we need not be concerned with that total. However, I cannot believe that the average homemaker spends more time waiting in line than doing housework.

How often does the average homemaker go to the supermarket to buy groceries? Three times a week? How long does he or she wait in line each time? Probably not more than 20 minutes--though it may seem longer. That's about one hour a week. They probably will spend 10 minutes waiting in line at the bank.

How much time, on the other hand, does that same person spend at housework? At least 20 minutes a day doing the dishes alone. Plus an hour a day picking up, dusting, scrubbing, cleaning, arranging, mending.

If housewives spend less time doing housework than standing in line, then there is not much weight to their argument that in the domestic equation they carry the greater burden. Of course, most housewives have to do not only the housework, but also stand in line.

As a result of all these time-consuming activities, the article states, married couples converse only four minutes a day, and working parents spend a fleeting 30 seconds on daily chats with the kids.

The report (prepared by Priority Management Pittsburgh) doesn't even mention the time we spend watching television, which is probably close to six hours a day or one-fourth of our lives.

When you consider television, it might seem possible that married couples converse only four minutes a day. But on the contrary, it's when we're watching television that my wife and I converse the most. We are always commenting to one another about the movies, complaining about the implausibilities, lauding a bit of dialogue, arguing about whether we've seen the movie before.

I don't think there's a time that we're closer than when we're watching television. Television has saved our marriage.

As for the time parents spend talking with their children, I hate to think that the report is true. I admit that parents and children don't seem to have a lot in common, and there isn't much real conversation. It's often limited to "Eat your breakfast," or "Put on your coat" or "Be home by 12 o'clock."

However, the daily arguments alone between parents and children must consume more than 30 seconds. And even an argument counts as conversation.

The article states that we spend seven years in the bathroom. That's the only one I don't question. Anyone who has ever lived in a house with two teen-age children and only one bathroom knows that he has spent seven years of his life just waiting to get into the bathroom.

The article didn't say how many years we spend on sex. However many years it has taken out of my life, I can't say I regret it.

It's a lot better than standing in line at the bank.

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