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Thursday, February 15, 2024

Hanging Out

Derek Thompson at The Atlantic:
To get a crystal-clear picture of how hanging out has dissipated in America, I spent the past week spelunking inside the American Time Use Survey, an annual government poll of how people in the U.S. spend their days. Economists at ATUS carefully track time spent socializing—meaning face-to-face interaction—for more than a dozen demographics.

Broadly, real-world socializing has declined for both men and women, for all ages, for all ethnicities, and for all levels of income and education. Although COVID-19 clearly increased time alone, these trends predate the pandemic. The steepest declines have been among young people, poor people, and Black Americans. Women and 20-somethings enjoy the most social time in a given week, and low-income, middle-aged, unmarried men seem to get together the least. For most groups, the decline was staggered before accelerating after 2015. Beyond in-person hanging, several other forms of socialization have declined by about a third in the past 20 years, including the share of Americans who volunteer and the share of Americans who attend religious services over the weekend.

The evidence that young people have replaced friend time with phone time is strong. As Twenge wrote in her book Generations, it’s not just that teens overall seem to have funneled their social lives into their smartphones. Even more telling, the groups with the largest increase in phone use, such as liberal 12th-grade girls, also saw the largest declines in hanging out with friends, strongly suggesting a direct relationship. For those who don’t accept that correlative evidence, we also have a 2019 randomized experiment from NYU and Stanford researchers who found that paying people to deactivate Facebook increased the time they spent socializing with friends. (It also increased the time they watch TV.)