CTUR Technical Papers
We do everything in space and time, but, unaided, we have only imprecise knowledge of the distances we move and of the durations of our activities. We are much more likely to know how much money we spend on various goods and services, than how much time we allocate to the different things we do.
National statistical agencies conduct questionnaire-based surveys to estimate population distributions of wages, and diary-type studies of households’ money budgets. Until relatively recently, policy makers remained incurious about the population’s allocation of time. But now various public issues (listed below) have led to an increase in the academic and policy salience of population time use data. Since the 1960s growing numbers of countries have begun to collect occasional diary-based “time budget” surveys. Bringing many of these together in a harmonised form, we are now able to consider, exhaustively, how (or if) populations’ time allocation changes, across much of the developed world, over an extended historical period, using evidence not available from any other sources.
This newly accumulating evidence reveals some unexpected, indeed puzzling, trends, particularly in relation to work. What follows combines discussion of a range of theorising about changing time-use patterns, with findings from a collection of comparative statistics of historical change. It deploys evidence from a sample of 81 time-use surveys, from 24 countries, covering the period 1961-2015, constructed from the 1.3 million randomly sampled whole-day diaries in the Multinational Time Use Study (Fisher et al 2014). It is mainly descriptive, tests no hypotheses, and rather than final conclusions, it provides theoretically-grounded speculations about the new historical puzzles that now emerge.
This study provides a new test of time-use diary methodology, comparing diaries with a pair of
objective criterion measures: wearable cameras and accelerometers.
A volunteer sample of respondents (n=148) completed conventional self-report paper time-use
diaries using the standard UK Harmonised European Time Use Study (HETUS) instrument (Eurostat 2009). On the diary day, respondents wore a camera that continuously recorded images of their activities during waking hours (approx. 1500-2000 images/day) and also an accelerometer that recorded their physical activity (PA) continuously throughout the 24-hour period covered by the diary. Of the initial 148 participants recruited, 131 returned usable diary and camera records, of whom 124 also provided a usable whole-day accelerometer record.
The comparison of the diary data with the camera and accelerometer records strongly supports
using diary methodology at both the aggregate (sample) and individual levels and provides evidence that time-use data may be a preferable alternative to PA Questionnaires (PAQs) for providing population-level estimates of physical activity energy expenditure (PAEE). It implies new
opportunities for calibrating metabolic equivalent of task (MET) attributions to activities, using large scale time-use diary studies deployed for samples representative of national populations.
This working paper describes a new software application for smartphones, designed to gather time-use data about the working day. Called random time sampling (RTS), the software was developed to overcome a void in the standard time-use survey data: namely, the lack of detail about activities undertaken and their social context during paid employment. The RTS system addresses the twin problems of (1) respondent burden, and (2) respondents providing potentially damaging information. Compared to a conventional time-diary which asks for an exhaustive recall of activities over 24 hours, the RTS only samples one hour of employment time per notification, with typically only a few notifications per working day, over a maximum of a few weeks. After becoming familiar with what is required, most respondents spend less than 90 seconds on each notification. Respondents are protected against ‘self-incrimination’ because the sampling aims to represent patterns typical of an occupation not of an individual. RTS collects insufficient information from any one individual to provide a useable measure of individual performance. The RTS system can be customised. It can be used the study the length of the (paid) workweek, the allocation of time to (99-999) subtasks, the timing of the tasks (by season, by day of the week and time of day), the social context and location of these activities, and the self-rated experience of doing these employment-related activities. Data from pilot studies, undertaken so far, illustrates how this done.
We analyse the impact of social norms on differences by gender in the time dedicated to total work (paid and unpaid) by families in Latin America. We use survey data on time use in Mexico (2009), Peru (2010), Ecuador (2012) and Colombia (2012), to estimate differential equations through OLS. Our results reveal differences between countries in terms of the gender distribution of total work (paid work plus unpaid work), with Colombia and Peru being more equitable. These two countries could be approaching a situation of "iso-work", or equality of work. When considering the social norms that explain gender differences in the time spent in total work, we use data from the World Values Survey (WVS) and we obtain that the more egalitarian countries exhibit the highest levels of equality in the distribution of work. It is important to know how men and women distribute their time in total work.
By collecting accounts of daily behaviour, time diaries can make conditions of people whose interests have been ignored visible. Not surprisingly, time use surveys often have had an association with social justice, for poor working class families in industrialised countries, migrant communities, women, carers, people with disabilities, and those of advanced age. More recently, regional UN Economic Commissions have shown renewed interest in collecting time use surveys to track progress toward gender equality. Lesbian and gay communities, however, remain invisible, not just in time use research, but across the full range of official statistics. Very few national sample surveys ask any question about sexuality, and consequently the degree to which policies serve the needs of LGBTI people remain unknown. Time diary surveys offer a particularly fitting place for collecting information on LGBTI communities. Much of the lingering prejudice against LGBTI people manifests in daily routines, influencing where people go and when, and with whom they undertake which activities. Measuring the degree to which communities share use of civic spaces gives insight to the levels of social integration. We discuss methodological practicalities for including sexuality in time use surveys.