It’s true that, as a portion of the household budget, entertainment is indeed small. The average U.S. household spent only 4.11 percent of its income after taxes on entertainment in 2012, down from 4.43 percent in 2007.
The biggest cost isn’t money but time. When we consider how many hours people spend consuming it, entertainment starts to look a lot more valuable.
The average American devotes about five hours and 10 minutes a day to “leisure and sports” activity, including two hours and 50 minutes watching television, up from 2 hours and 37 minutes in 2007, according to the 2012 American Time Use Survey done by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The numbers are lower for the fully employed, but leisure still accounts for an average of about four hours a day — more on the weekend, less during the week — with TV again the most popular activity. Just over half the population works on a given day, while about 80 percent watches TV.
“People spend most of their waking time in nonwork activities,” said Peter Klenow, a Stanford University economist who has done work on how leisure activities affect the standard of living. “So improvements in the quality of your leisure time become important.”