How Do We Spend Our Time? Evidence from the American Time Use Survey

How Do We Spend Our Time? Evidence from the American Time Use Survey

How Do We Spend Our Time? Evidence from the American Time Use Survey

How Do We Spend Our Time? Evidence from the American Time Use Survey

Synopsis

After years of study the Bureau of Labor Statistics initiated the annual American Time Use Survey in which respondents report how they spend their time, these detailed data open a window on how americans spend their time and afford economists the opportunity to gain a better understanding of everyday life.

Excerpt

Jean Kimmel Western Michigan University

Economics is about scarcity of resources and the choices people make in light of that scarcity. Perhaps the most obviously limited resource is time. There are only 24 hours in a day, 7 days a week, regardless of an individual's wealth or power or country of residence. Thus, each of us confronts the necessary choice of how to spend our time.

Economists have long been interested in the analysis of time use decision making. Studies of this nature have been limited until recently by a lack of quality time use data. In 2003, after years of study and preparation, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics initiated the annual American Time Use Survey (ATUS). Each year, a randomly selected subsample of the outgoing rotation group of the Current Population Survey (CPS) will be asked to participate in the ATUS. A randomly selected individual aged 15 or older will complete a 24-hour time diary. In this single-day diary, one adult per selected household describes his or her activities in 15-minute intervals. Reported activities are categorized by an activity lexicon that contains 406 distinct activities. Also provided are data on where the activity took place and with whom. The 2003 ATUS survey sample was the largest, with approximately 40,500 households surveyed. In the following years, the ATUS sample was reduced to approximately 26,000 for cost reasons. In each year of the ATUS, there are an even number of weekdays and weekend days sampled (ATUS User's Guide 2007).

In addition to the detailed time use survey, the ATUS data are supplemented with much of the data available in the CPS. Additionally, researchers have the capability to match ATUS individuals to the full CPS survey data to facilitate the examination of a broad array of time use behaviors across a variety of demographic categories. Although the first ATUS data did not become available to the broader research community until midyear 2005, countless papers have been written to date . . .

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