What Are We Not Doing When We're Online?

Scott Wallsten

Chapter in NBER book Economic Analysis of the Digital Economy (2015), Avi Goldfarb, Shane Greenstein, and Catherine Tucker, editors (p. 55 - 82)
Conference held June 6-7, 2013
Published in April 2015 by University of Chicago Press
© 2015 by the National Bureau of Economic Research

The Internet has radically transformed the way we live our lives. The net changes in consumer surplus and economic activity, however, are difficult to measure because some online activities, such as obtaining news, are new ways of doing old activities while new activities, like social media, have an opportunity cost in terms of activities crowded out. This paper uses data from the American Time Use Survey from 2003 - 2011 to estimate the crowdout effects of leisure time spent online. That data show that time spent online and the share of the population engaged in online activities has been increasing steadily. I find that, on the margin, each minute of online leisure time is correlated with 0.29 fewer minutes on all other types of leisure, with about half of that coming from time spent watching TV and video, 0.05 minutes from (offline) socializing, 0.04 minutes from relaxing and thinking, and the balance from time spent at parties, attending cultural events, and listening to the radio. Each minute of online leisure is also correlated with 0.27 fewer minutes working, 0.12 fewer minutes sleeping, 0.10 fewer minutes in travel time, 0.07 fewer minutes in household activities, and 0.06 fewer minutes in educational activities.

This chapter is no longer available for free download, since the book has been published. To obtain a copy, you must buy the book.
Order from

An data appendix is available at

This paper was revised on June 19, 2015

Machine-readable bibliographic record - MARC, RIS, BibTeX

This chapter first appeared as NBER working paper w19549, What Are We Not Doing When We're Online, Scott Wallsten
Commentary on this chapter: Comment, Chris Forman
Users who downloaded this chapter also downloaded these:
Wallsten w19549 What Are We Not Doing When We're Online
Forman Comment on "What Are We Not Doing When We're Online?"
Goldfarb, Greenstein, and Tucker Introduction to "Economic Analysis of the Digital Economy"
Lewis, Rao, and Reiley Measuring the Effects of Advertising: The Digital Frontier
Gentzkow and Shapiro Ideology and Online News
NBER Videos

National Bureau of Economic Research, 1050 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138; 617-868-3900; email:

Contact Us