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Ideal Evenings for Most Americans Involve Family Time, TV

Ideal Evenings for Most Americans Involve Family Time, TV

Story Highlights

  • Most name family time (33%) or TV (23%) as favorite evening activity
  • Amid COVID-19, higher mentions of TV watching and outdoor leisure
  • Reading drops to a new low as Americans' favorite evening activity

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Most Americans say their favorite way to spend an evening currently is either staying home with family (33%) or watching television or a movie at home (23%). Both activities have led Gallup's long-term measure of Americans' favorite way to spend an evening in the new millennium. Resting or relaxing is the evening activity of choice for 10% of Americans, followed by reading (6%) and getting outdoors/walking/going to a park (5%).

Americans' Favorite Way to Spend an Evening
Currently, what is your favorite way of spending an evening? [OPEN-ENDED]
U.S. adults
Staying home with the family 33
Watching television, VHS, DVD 23
Resting/Relaxing 10
Reading 6
Getting outdoors/Walking/Going to a park 5
Entertaining/Visiting friends 3
Sewing/Needlepoint/Crafts 3
Dining out 2
Sports activities/Exercise 2
Having a beer/cocktail/drink 1
Working 1
Housework/Yardwork/Home repair 1
Cards/Games 1
Working on home computer 1
Gardening 1
Listening to music 1
Other/No answer 6
Gallup, May 28-June 4, 2020

Three percent of Americans each say that entertaining/visiting friends and sewing/needlepoint/crafts are their favorite after-hours activities. Meanwhile, 2% each name dining out and sports/exercise.

These data are from a Gallup poll conducted May 28-June 4. Gallup has asked this open-ended question at least once per decade since 1960.

Gallup has previously noted a decades-long increase in the percentage of Americans naming family time as their favorite evening activity, and a decrease in those who name watching television. Though, as Gallup noted in 2006, this "does not necessarily mean that people are not watching television or movies together as a family, but rather, the phrase 'staying at home with the family' has become more prevalent, perhaps indicating a renewed interest in having quality family time."

Some notable differences among gender and age groups include:

  • Nearly half of adults aged 30 to 49 (46%) say time at home with family is their favorite way to spend an evening -- a much higher percentage than those in the 18-to-29 age group (32%) and those aged 50 to 64 (29%). Americans aged 65 and older (19%) are the least likely age group to name family time.
  • More than a third of adults aged 65 and older name television time as their favorite activity -- a much higher figure than any other age group.
  • Men (13%) are about twice as likely as women (7%) to say that resting or relaxing is their favorite evening activity.
  • Outdoor activities are ideal for 7% of adults under the age of 30, whereas only 2% of senior citizens say the same.
  • Young adults (6%) are also the most likely age group to say that visiting with friends is their favorite way to spend an evening.

COVID-19's Impact on Americans' 'Favorite' Activities

This year, Gallup added the word currently to the "favorite way to spend an evening" question to focus respondents on their preferences in the context of the current pandemic, rather than what their "normal" preferences might be.

While many Americans at the time of the May 28-June 4 survey said they have become less isolated than previously, state-imposed restrictions on activities have likely impacted how many Americans would describe their favorite evening activity.

The percentage of Americans naming watching TV as their favorite evening activity had been on a general decline since its peak in the 1960s and 1970s. Sixteen percent of U.S. adults named watching TV in 2015, a third of the percentage found in 1966. But this figure has increased in the latest poll, up seven percentage points (to 23%) since 2015.

This increase may be a temporary one, as many Americans are watching TV more than they normally would in unrestricted times. On the other hand, the proliferation of new television apps and services in recent years may be a factor in the latest figure in drawing more Americans to spend time watching television.

Line graph. The percentage of Americans over time who say that watching television is their favorite evening activity. In Gallup's March 28-June 4 update, 23 percent of Americans say that their favorite evening activity is watching television.

Further evidence of COVID-19 influencing Americans' ideas about the ideal way to pass an evening may be seen in their mentions of outdoor and social activities.

Outdoor activities, including walking and going to a park, have been evening favorites for very few Americans in the past; in all polls over several decades, no more than 1% have named this in the open-ended question. But the home-bound nature of many Americans' current living may have played a big role in the jump to 5% in the latest poll.

Meanwhile, entertaining or visiting friends has fallen to a new low of 3% in Gallup's trend -- possibly reflecting the social distancing efforts many Americans have heeded in recent months.

Line graph. The percentages of Americans over time who say that getting outdoors or visiting with friends are their favorite evening activities. In Gallup's March 28-June 4 update, 5% of Americans say that their favorite evening activity is getting outdoors and 3% say that visiting friends is their favorite activity.

Reading Now Less Favored as Evening Activity

Six percent of Americans name reading as a favorite evening activity -- the lowest Gallup has recorded in its trend.

It's hard to pin the new low on COVID-19, given that many Americans have had more time at home to spend reading but are still less likely to list it as a favorite activity.

Though the trend on reading as a favorite activity is a varied one, it was a more popular activity in the first half of Gallup's 60-year trend than it has been in the second half. An average of 14% named reading as their favorite way to spend an evening in polls from 1960 to 1990, compared with the 10% average recorded in polls since then.

Line graph. The percentage of Americans over time who say that reading is their favorite evening activity. In Gallup's March 28-June 4 update, 6% of Americans say that their favorite evening activity is reading.

Bottom Line

Despite the extraordinary circumstances under which Americans report their favorite evening activity in the latest update, it remains that family time and television time are how half or more of U.S. adults desire to spend an evening in the new millennium. In some households, the two activities may be intertwined, with families spending time together watching TV shows or movies.

The effects of COVID-19 on evening activity ideals are not to be ignored, however. A decades-long decline in television watching as a favorite activity was suddenly disrupted. Still, Americans' preference for watching TV is roughly half of what it was at its 1960s/1970s peak. But television watching, both as a technology and a concept, is changing, so future measures will provide a clearer picture of how Americans are interacting with shows and movies in their evening downtime.

Meanwhile, the less popular activities of outdoor leisure and social engagements are undergoing their own changes. As Gallup's recent trends on COVID-19 suggest, social life will likely resurface in Americans' ideas of favorite evening activities as restrictions ease -- and especially after a vaccine is developed. Meanwhile, the global pandemic may have reintroduced many Americans to the outdoors. Whether the novelty of getting outside wears off after the health crisis will be seen in time.

Reading as a favorite evening activity, however, did not fare well despite the home-bound activities Americans are seeking out these days. The new low reflects a sharp drop since 2015, and one that the activity may not rebound from if the larger trend away from reading persists.

View complete question responses and trends (PDF download).

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