For a better browsing experience, please upgrade your browser.

Skip to main content
Which Cities Sleep In, And Which Get To Work Early
Share on Facebook

The morning commute at Grand Central Station in New York.

John Moore / Getty Images

I’m not a morning person, so I appreciate living in New York. The workday here starts later than in any other American city, and about half an hour later than in the U.S. as a whole.

A decade or so ago, when I was a consultant living in Chicago, I didn’t have it so easy. Work in Chicago begins a little earlier than in New York — about 20 minutes earlier, relative to the local time zone. My bosses nevertheless tolerated me rolling into the office at a bit past 9 a.m. But sometimes I’d travel to cities such as St. Louis and Omaha, Neb., to visit clients. Meetings as early as 6 or 7 a.m. were not uncommon; I was “relieved” from one project after a client caught me nodding off in a meeting.

How much do American cities differ in when they begin work? The Census Bureau collects data on this through the American Community Survey. This data isn’t especially user-friendly, but I figured out the median time Americans begin their workday in each metro area. All the figures that I’ll describe here refer to the location of work — not the location of residence for the workers — since some Americans commute between metro areas for their jobs. These figures also don’t include the growing number of Americans who work from home. All times are local.

As I mentioned, New Yorkers get to work late — at least on a relative basis. The median worker in the New York metropolitan area begins her workday at 8:24 a.m. There’s a buffer of about an hour on either side: 25 percent of the workforce has arrived by 7:28 a.m., while 75 percent has gotten in by 9:32.

The 20 most nocturnal metro areas, by the median time of arrival at work, are as follows:


These cities break down into three rough categories. First are those like New York, San Francisco and Boston, which are home to a lot of young, creative professionals. Next are college towns such as Ithaca, N.Y. (Cornell University); Lawrence, Kan. (the University of Kansas); and Logan, Utah (Utah State University). Finally are cities such as Atlantic City, N.J., Orlando, Fla., and Miami, whose economies are associated with recreation, tourism and gambling. A quarter of the workforce in Atlantic City doesn’t begin its workday until 11:26 a.m. or after.

The metro area with the earliest workday is Hinesville, Ga. The median worker there arrives at work at 7:01 a.m. There’s a good chance she is in the military; the Hinesville area includes Fort Stewart and the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division. Military metros account for a number of the earliest-to-work communities, including Killeen, Texas (Fort Hood), and Jacksonville, N.C. (Camp Lejeune). Many of the other early-arriving metros, such as Bakersfield, Calif., rely on farming and agriculture to generate income.


One exception is Honolulu, where the median workday begins at 7:29 a.m. Presumably, some workers there are trying coordinate with the U.S. mainland. This is not true of Anchorage, Alaska, however, where the median workday starts at 7:57, two minutes after the U.S. median of 7:55. While Anchorage is four hours behind the East Coast, its northerly location presents another constraint for some workers: sunrise there doesn’t occur until after 8 a.m. for five months out of the year.

What about those mid-size Midwestern metros, such as St. Louis? Work in St. Louis indeed begins begins relatively early, at 7:50. In Omaha, the median workday starts at 7:48. Kansas City, Mo. (7:51), Milwaukee (7:51) — also places on my consulting itinerary — likewise start their workday just slightly earlier than the U.S. median.

But the majority of highly populous metro areas begin working a little later than the rest of the country. (The chart below depicts the schedule for the 35 metro areas with the largest number of workers.) Washington, D.C., starts work at a median time of 8:07 (although it is prompt: three-quarters of the workforce is in by 9:14). The median worker in Los Angeles begins at 8:05; in Atlanta, at 8:03; in Chicago, at 8:02.


In general, however, the workday schedule is dictated more by the type of work than the location. The earliest-arriving quartile of the workforce in the New York metro has begun work by 7:28 a.m. — quite a bit sooner than the the latest-arriving quartile in Hinesville, which starts work at 8:06. Some of us New Yorkers appreciate our extra half-hour of sleep. But if you’re an early bird or a night owl and want a work schedule that matches your metabolism, changing jobs is a better strategy than changing cities.

Nate Silver is the founder and editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight.

Filed under , , ,

Comments Add Comment

Never miss the best of FiveThirtyEight.

Subscribe to the FiveThirtyEight Newsletter