Academic journal article Monthly Labor Review

Measuring Time Spent in Unpaid Household Work: Results from the American Time Use Survey: Time-Use Data Show That on Average Americans Spend More Than 20 Hours per Week Working for Their Own Household without Pay on Tasks That Might Be Done by a Paid Worker; Women Spend More Time at Such Unpaid Household Work

Academic journal article Monthly Labor Review

Measuring Time Spent in Unpaid Household Work: Results from the American Time Use Survey: Time-Use Data Show That on Average Americans Spend More Than 20 Hours per Week Working for Their Own Household without Pay on Tasks That Might Be Done by a Paid Worker; Women Spend More Time at Such Unpaid Household Work

Article excerpt

Individuals often perform services for themselves or their households rather than purchasing those services. For example, they fix leaky faucets rather than hiring plumbers, grocery shop instead of using a grocery delivery service, and prepare meals rather than eating at restaurants. Such unpaid services that are produced for immediate consumption by one's own household, and for which market substitutes exist, are referred to as unpaid household work. Unlike work that is done for pay, about which there are a number of timely statistical measures--persons employed, hours worked, earnings generated, and others--the resources involved in doing unpaid household work are less frequently quantified.

Time-use data can be used to learn more about the resources involved in doing unpaid work because the data contain information about the full range of productive activities individuals do, and not merely those for which they receive pay. The focus of this article is on the time resources involved in doing unpaid household work. Some findings from the 2003- 07 American Time Use Survey (ATUS). show how much time individuals spent doing unpaid household work, the types of unpaid household work they did, and characteristics of persons who most frequently did this work. Data about how much time individuals spend doing unpaid household work provide insight about the labor-time resources involved in these activities. Time-use data also are an important element in determining a monetary value for unpaid household work, although doing so is not within the scope of this article. (1)

Data

The ATUS is a federally sponsored survey about how individuals ages 15 and older living in the United States spend their time. The core of the computer-assisted telephone ATUS interview is a time diary in which survey respondents are asked how they spent their time over a 24-hour period, starting at 4 a.m. on the day before the interview and ending at 4 a.m. on the day of the interview. Respondents are asked to report their primary activities for this 24-hour period, and those who report doing more than one activity at a time are asked to specify their main activity. (2) In addition to the time diary, the ATUS data also include information about each respondent's household composition, demographics, employment status, and other characteristics.

Activities reported in the ATUS time diary are assigned codes using an extensive coding lexicon and set of rules. The coding lexicon was designed to capture the full range of activities people do, with codes grouped into the 17 major categories shown in exhibit 1. In addition to these major groups, there are hundreds of more detailed activity sub-categories. (3) ATUS interviews were conducted nearly every day in 2003-07, and in total over this 5-year period there were more than 70,000 completed interviews. Unless stated otherwise, the results appearing in this article are representative of the civilian noninstitutional population ages 15 and older for 2003-07. (4)

Defining unpaid household work

As a first step in this analysis, it was necessary to define unpaid household work: that is, to identify which activities in the ATUS activity lexicon are unpaid, economically productive, and done for one's own household. During the ATUS interview, survey respondents are asked to identify which of the activities reported in the time diary were done as a part of their job(s) or for which they will be paid. (5) Following the coding rules, this information is used to classify all paid activities as work or income-generating activities (such as making crafts that will be sold and lawn mowing done for pay). Because they are activities done for pay, work and income-generating activities were automatically excluded from the definition of unpaid household work.

For unpaid activities, Margaret Reid's third-person criterion (6) was used to identify those that are economically productive. …

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