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Economic News Release
ATUS ATUS Program Links

American Time Use Survey Technical Note

                                   - 4 -

Technical Note

   The estimates in this release are based on annual average data from
the American Time Use Survey (ATUS).  The ATUS, which is conducted by
the U.S. Census Bureau for the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), is a
continuous survey about how individuals age 15 and over spend their

   Information in this release will be made available to sensory im-
paired individuals upon request.  Voice phone:  (202) 691-5200; TDD
message referral phone:  1-800-877-8339.

Survey methodology

   Data collection for the ATUS began in January 2003.  Sample cases
for the survey are selected monthly and interviews are conducted con-
tinuously throughout the year.  In 2008, approximately 12,700 indivi-
duals were interviewed.  Estimates are released annually.

   ATUS sample households are chosen from the households that completed
their eighth (final) interview for the Current Population Survey (CPS),
the nation's monthly household labor force survey.  ATUS sample house-
holds are selected to ensure that estimates will be nationally repre-

   One individual age 15 or over is randomly chosen from each sampled
household.  This "designated person" is interviewed by telephone once
about his or her activities on the day before the interview--the "diary

   All ATUS interviews are conducted using Computer Assisted Telephone
Interviewing.  Procedures are in place to collect information from the
small number of households that did not provide a telephone number
during the CPS interview.

   ATUS designated persons are preassigned a day of the week about
which to report.  Preassignment is designed to reduce variability in
response rates across the week and to allow oversampling of weekend
days so that accurate weekend day measures can be developed.  Inter-
views occur on the day following the assigned day.  For example, a
person assigned to report about a Monday would be contacted on the 
following Tuesday.  Ten percent of designated persons are assigned to
report about each of the five weekdays.  Twenty-five percent are
assigned to report about each weekend day.  Households are called for
up to 8 consecutive weeks (for example, 8 Tuesdays) in order to secure
an interview.

About the questionnaire

   In the time diary portion of the ATUS interview, survey respondents
sequentially report activities they did between 4 a.m. on the day
before the interview ("yesterday") until 4 a.m. on the day of the
interview.  For each activity, respondents are asked how long the
activity lasted.  For activities other than personal care activities
(such as sleeping and grooming), interviewers also ask respondents
where they were.  And for activities other than personal care and
work, they are asked who was in the room with them (if at home) or who
accompanied them (if away from home).  If respondents report doing
more than one activity at a time, they are asked to identify which one
was the "main" (primary) activity.  If none can be identified, then
the interviewer records the first activity mentioned.  After completing
the time diary, interviewers ask respondents additional questions to
clearly identify work, volunteering, and secondary childcare activi-
ties.  Secondary childcare is defined as having a child under age 13 in
one's care while doing other activities.

                                   - 5 -

   In addition, the ATUS includes an update of the household composition
information from the last CPS interview (2 to 5 months prior to the ATUS
interview) and the employment status information of the respondent and
his or her spouse or unmarried partner.  For respondents who became em-
ployed or changed jobs between the last CPS interview and the ATUS inter-
view, information also is collected on industry, occupation, class of
worker, and earnings.  For those who are unemployed and/or on layoff,
CPS questions on job search activities are asked.  Those who report being
on layoff are asked if or when they expect to be recalled to work.  Fin-
ally, a question about current school enrollment status is asked of all
respondents ages 15 to 49.

   After completing the interview, primary activity descriptions are
assigned a single 6-digit code using the ATUS Coding Lexicon.  The
3-tier coding system consists of 17 major activity categories, each with
multiple second- and third-tier subcategories.  These coding lexicon
categories are then combined into composite categories for publication,
such as in this news release.  Descriptions of categories shown in this
release can be found in the Major activity category definitions section
of this Technical Note.  The 2008 ATUS Coding Lexicon can be accessed
online at

Concepts and definitions

   Average day.  The average day measure reflects an average distribu-
tion across all persons in the reference population and all days of the
week.  Average day measures for the entire population provide a mechan-
ism for seeing the overall distribution of time allocation for society
as a whole.  The ATUS collects data about daily activities from all seg-
ments of the population age 15 and over, including persons who are em-
ployed and not employed.  Activity profiles differ based upon age, em-
ployment status, gender, and other characteristics.  On an average day
in 2008, persons in the U.S. age 15 and over did work and work-related
activities for 3.7 hours, slept 8.6 hours, spent 5.2 hours doing leisure
and sports activities, and spent 1.7 hours doing household activities.
The remaining 4.8 hours were spent doing a variety of other activities,
including eating and drinking, attending school, and shopping.  (See
table 1.)  By comparison, an average weekday for persons employed full
time on days that they worked included 9.2 hours doing work and work-
related activities, 7.6 hours sleeping, 2.9 hours doing leisure and
sports activities, and 0.9 hour doing household activities.  The re-
maining 3.4 hours were spent in other activities, such as those des-
cribed above.  (These estimates include related travel time.)

   Many activities typically are not done on a daily basis, and some
activities only are done by a subset of the population.  For example,
only 45 percent of all persons age 15 years and over worked on an
average day in 2008 because some were not employed and those who were
employed did not work every day.  (See table 1.)

   Average hours per day.  The average number of hours spent in a 24-
hour day (between 4 a.m. on the diary day and 4 a.m. on the interview
day) doing a specified activity.

   --Average hours per day, population.  The average number of hours
     per day is computed using all responses from a given population,
     including those of respondents who did not do a particular acti-
     vity on their diary day.  These estimates reflect how many popul-
     ation members engaged in an activity and the amount of time they
     spent doing it.

                                   - 6 -

   --Average hours per day, persons who did the activity.  The aver-
     age number of hours per day is computed using only responses from
     those who engaged in a particular activity on their diary day.

   Diary day.  The diary day is the day about which the respondent
reports.  For example, the diary day of a respondent interviewed on
Tuesday is Monday.


   --Usual weekly earnings.  Data represent the earnings of full-time
     wage and salary workers with one job only, before taxes and other
     deductions.  They include any overtime pay, commissions, or tips
     usually received.  Usual weekly earnings are only updated in ATUS
     for about a third of employed respondents--if the respondent changed
     jobs or employment status or if the CPS weekly earnings value was 
     imputed.  This means that the earnings information could be out of
     date because the CPS interview was done 2 to 5 months prior to the
     ATUS interview.  Respondents are asked to identify the easiest way
     for them to report earnings (hourly, weekly, biweekly, twice monthly,
     annually, or other) and how much they usually earn in the reported
     time period.  Earnings reported on a basis other than weekly are
     converted to a weekly equivalent.  The term "usual" is as perceived
     by the respondent.  If the respondent asks for a definition of usual,
     interviewers are instructed to define the term as more than half the
     weeks worked during the past 4 or 5 months.

   --Weekly earnings ranges.  The ranges used represent approximately
     25 percent of full-time wage and salary workers who held only one
     job.  For example, 25 percent of full-time wage and salary workers
     with one job only had weekly earnings of $500 or less.  These dollar
     values vary from year to year.

   Employment status

   --Employed.  All persons who, at any time during the 7 days prior
     to the interview:

      1) Did any work at all as paid employees; worked in their own
      business, profession, or on their own farm; or usually worked 15
      hours or more as unpaid workers in a family-operated enterprise;

      2) Were not working but had jobs or businesses from which they
      were temporarily absent due to illness, bad weather, vacation,
      childcare problems, labor-management disputes, maternity or
      paternity leave, job training, or other family or personal
      reasons, whether or not they were paid for the time off or were
      seeking other jobs.

   --Employed full time.  Full-time workers are those who usually
     worked 35 hours or more per week at all jobs combined.

   --Employed part time.  Part-time workers are those who usually
     worked fewer than 35 hours per week at all jobs combined.

   --Not employed.  Persons are not employed if they do not meet the
     conditions for employment.  The not employed include those clas-
     sified as unemployed as well as those classified as not in the
     labor force (using CPS definitions).

                                   - 7 -

   The numbers of employed and not employed persons in this report do
not correspond to published totals from the CPS for several reasons.
First, the reference population for the ATUS is age 15 years and over,
whereas it is age 16 years and over for the CPS.  Second, ATUS data
are collected continuously, the employment reference period being the
7 days prior to the interview.  By contrast, CPS data are usually col-
lected during the week including the 19th of the month and refer to
employment during the week containing the 12th of the month.  Finally,
the CPS accepts answers from household members about other household
members whereas such proxy responses are not allowed in the ATUS.  One
consequence of the difference in proxy reporting is that a significantly
higher proportion of teenagers report employment in the ATUS than in
the CPS.  While the information on employment from the ATUS is useful
for assessing work in the context of other daily activities, the employ-
ment data are not intended for analysis of current employment trends.
Compared with the CPS and other estimates of employment, the ATUS esti-
mates are based on a much smaller sample and are only available with a
substantial lag since ATUS data and estimates are published during the
year following data collection.

   Household children.  Household children are children under age 18
residing in the household of the ATUS respondent.  The children may 
be related to the respondent (such as his or her own children, grand-
children, nieces or nephews, or brothers or sisters) or not related 
(such as foster children or children of roommates).

   Primary activity.  A primary activity is the main activity a re-
spondent was doing at a specified time.  With the exception of second-
ary childcare in table 10, the estimates presented in this release
reflect time spent in primary activities only.

   Secondary activities.  A secondary (or simultaneous) activity is an
activity done at the same time as a primary activity.  With the excep-
tion of the care of children under age 13, information on secondary
activities is not systematically collected in the ATUS.

   Secondary childcare.  Secondary childcare is care for children under
age 13 that is done while doing an activity other than primary childcare,
such as cooking dinner.  Secondary childcare estimates are derived by
summing the durations of activities during which respondents had a house-
hold child or their own nonhousehold child under age 13 in their care
while doing activities other than primary childcare.  It is restricted to
times the respondent was awake.  Secondary childcare time for household
children is further restricted to the time between when the first house-
hold child under age 13 woke up and the last household child under age 13
went to bed.  If respondents report providing both primary and secondary
care at the same time, the time is attributed to primary care only.

   Weekday, weekend, and holiday estimates.  Estimates for weekdays are
an average of reports about Monday through Friday.  Estimates for weekend
days and holidays are an average of reports about Saturdays, Sundays, and
the following holidays:  New Year's Day, Easter, Memorial Day, the Fourth
of July, Labor Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas Day.  In 2008, the
telephone call center was closed the day after Christmas Day, so data 
were not collected about this holiday.

Major activity category definitions

   The following definitions describe the activity categories shown in
this report.  All major time-use categories in the tables include related

                                   - 8 -

travel time and waiting time.  For example, time spent "driving to the
stadium" and time spent "waiting to get into the stadium to play ball"
are included in Leisure and sports.

   Personal care activities.  Personal care activities include sleeping,
grooming (such as bathing or dressing), health-related self-care, and
personal or private activities.  Receiving unpaid personal care from
others (for example, "my sister put polish on my nails") also is cap-
tured in this category.  Respondents are not asked who they were with
or where they were for personal care activities, as such information can
be sensitive.

   Eating and drinking.  All time spent eating or drinking (except eating
and drinking done as part of a work or volunteer activity), whether alone,
with others, at home, at a place of purchase, or somewhere else, is class-
ified here.  Time spent purchasing or talking related to purchasing meals,
snacks, or beverages is not counted as part of this category; time spent
doing these activities is counted in Purchasing goods and services.

   Household activities.  Household activities are those done by persons
to maintain their households.  These include housework; cooking; lawn and
garden care; pet care; vehicle maintenance and repair; home maintenance,
repair, decoration, and renovation; and household management and organiza-
tional activities (such as filling out paperwork, balancing a check-book,
or planning a party).  Food preparation, whether or not reported as done
specifically for another household member, is always classified as a house-
hold activity, unless it was done as a volunteer, work, or income-gener-
ating activity.  For example, "making breakfast for my son" is coded as a
household activity, not as childcare.

   Purchasing goods and services.  This category includes purchases of
consumer goods, professional and personal care services, household ser-
vices, and government services.  Consumer purchases include most pur-
chases and rentals of consumer goods, regardless of the mode or place of
purchase or rental (in person, via telephone, over the Internet, at home,
or in a store).  Gasoline, grocery, other food purchases, and all other
shopping are further broken out in subcategories.

   Time spent obtaining, receiving, and purchasing professional and per-
sonal care services provided by someone else also is classified in this
category.  Professional services include childcare, financial services
and banking, legal services, medical and adult care services, real es-
tate services, and veterinary services.  Personal care services include
day spas, hair salons and barbershops, nail salons, and tanning salons.
Activities classified here include time spent paying, meeting with, or
talking to service providers, as well as time spent receiving the ser-
vice or waiting to receive the service.

   Time spent arranging for and purchasing household services provided
by someone else also is classified here.  Household services include
housecleaning; cooking; lawn care and landscaping; pet care; tailoring,
laundering, and dry cleaning; vehicle maintenance and repairs; and home
repairs, maintenance, and construction

   This category also captures the time spent obtaining government
services--such as applying for food stamps--and purchasing government-
required licenses or paying fines or fees.

   Caring for and helping household members.  Time spent doing activi-
ties to care for or help any child (under age 18) or adult in the house-
hold, regardless of relationship to the respondent or the physical or
mental health status of the person being helped, is classified here.
Caring for and helping activities for household children and adults are
coded separately in subcategories.

   Primary childcare activities include time spent providing physical
care; playing with children; reading to children; assistance with home-
work; attending children's events; taking care of children's health
needs; and dropping off, picking up, and waiting for children. Passive
childcare done as a primary activity (such as "keeping an eye on my son
while he swam in the pool") also is included.  A child's presence during
the activity is not enough in itself to classify the activity as child-
care.  For example, "watching television with my child" is coded as a
leisure activity, not as childcare.

   Secondary childcare occurs when persons have a child under age 13 "in
their care" while doing activities other than primary childcare.  For a
complete definition, see the Concepts and definitions section of this
Technical Note.

                                  - 9 -

   Caring for and helping household members also includes a range of
activities done to benefit adult members of house-holds, such as pro-
viding physical and medical care or obtaining medical services.  Doing
something as a favor for or helping another household adult does not
automatically result in classification as a helping activity.  For
example, a report of "helping my spouse cook dinner" is considered a
household activity (food preparation), not a helping activity, because
cooking dinner benefits the household as a whole.  By contrast, doing
paperwork for another person usually benefits the individual, so a
report of "filling out an insurance application for my spouse" is
considered a helping activity.

   Caring for and helping nonhousehold members.  Caring for and helping
nonhousehold members includes activities persons do to care for or help
those--either children (under age 18) or adults--who do not live with
them.  When done for or through an organization, time spent helping non-
household members is classified as volunteering, rather than as helping
nonhousehold members.  Care of nonhousehold children, even when done as
a favor or helping activity for another adult, is always classified as
caring for and helping nonhousehold children, not as helping another

   Working and work-related activities.  This category includes time
spent working, doing activities as part of one's job, engaging in
income-generating activities (not as part of one's job), and job
search activities.  "Working" includes hours spent doing the specific
tasks required of one's main or other job, regardless of location or
time of day.  "Work-related activities" include activities that are
not obviously work but are done as part of one's job, such as having a
business lunch or playing golf with clients.  "Other income-generating
activities" are those done "on the side" or under informal arrangement
and are not part of a regular job.  Such activities might include sel-
ling homemade crafts, babysitting, maintaining a rental property, or
having a yard sale.  These activities are those that persons "are paid
for or will be paid for."

   Travel time related to working and work-related activities includes
time spent traveling to and from work, as well as time spent traveling
for work-related, income-generating, and job search activities

   Educational activities.  Educational activities include taking
classes (including Internet and other distance-learning courses) for a
degree as well as for personal interest; doing research and homework;
and taking care of administrative tasks related to education, such as
registering for classes or obtaining a school ID.  For high school
students, before- and after-school extracurricular activities (except
sports) also are classified as educational activities.  Educational
activities do not include time spent for classes or training received
as part of a job.  Time spent helping others with their education-
related activities is classified in the Caring for and helping

   Organizational, civic, and religious activities.  This category
captures time spent volunteering for or through an organization,
performing civic obligations, and participating in religious and
spiritual activities.  Civic obligations include government-required
duties, such as serving jury duty or appearing in court, and activi-
ties that assist or influence government processes, such as voting
or attending town hall meetings.  Religious activities include those
normally associated with membership in or identification with speci-
fic religions or denominations, such as attending religious services;
participating in choirs, youth groups, orchestras, or unpaid teaching
(unless identified as volunteer activities); and engaging in personal
religious practices, such as praying.

   Leisure and sports.  The leisure and sports category includes sports,
exercise, and recreation; socializing and communicating; and other lei-
sure activities.  Sports, exercise, and recreation activities include
participating in--as well as attending or watching--sports, exercise and
recreational activities.  Recreational activities are leisure activities
that are active in nature, such as yard games like croquet or horseshoes.
Socializing and communicating includes face-to-face social communication
and hosting or attending social functions.  Leisure activities include
watching television; reading; relaxing or thinking; playing computer,
board, or card games; using a computer or the Internet for personal in-
terest; playing or listening to music; and other activities, such as at-
tending arts, cultural, and entertainment events.

                                   - 10 -

   Telephone calls, mail, and e-mail.  This category captures telephone
communication and handling household or personal mail or e-mail.  Tele-
phone and Internet purchases are classified in Purchasing goods and ser-
vices.  Telephone calls, mail, or e-mail identified as related to work
or volunteering are classified as work or volunteering.

   Other activities, not elsewhere classified.  This residual category
includes security procedures related to traveling, traveling not asso-
ciated with a specific activity category, ambiguous activities that
could not be coded, and missing activities.  Missing activities result
when respondents did not remember what they did for a period of time,
or when they considered an activity too private or personal to report.

Processing and estimation

   After ATUS data are collected, they go through an editing and impu-
tation procedure.  Responses to CPS questions that are reasked in the
ATUS go through the regular CPS edit and imputation procedures.  Some
item nonresponses for questions unique to the ATUS (such as where an
activity took place or how much time was spent doing secondary child-
care) also are imputed.  Missing activities and missing values for who
was present during an activity are never imputed.

   ATUS records are weighted to reduce bias in the estimates due to dif-
ferences in sampling and response rates across subpopulations and days of
the week.  Specifically, the data are weighted to ensure the following:

   --Weekdays represent about 5/7 of the weighted data, and weekend
     days each represent about 1/7 of the weighted data for the pop-
     ulation as a whole.  The actual proportions depend on the number
     of weekdays and weekend days in a given quarter.

   --The sum of the weights is equal to the number of person-days in
     the quarter for the population as a whole and for selected sub-

Reliability of the estimates

   Statistics based on the ATUS are subject to both sampling and non-
sampling error.  When a sample, rather than the entire population, is
surveyed, there is a chance that the sample estimates may differ from
the "true" population values they represent.  The exact difference, or
sampling error, varies depending on the particular sample selected,
and this variability is measured by the standard error of the estimate.
There is about a 90-percent chance, or level of confidence, that an
estimate based on a sample will differ by no more than 1.6 standard
errors from the "true" population value because of sampling error.  BLS
analyses are generally conducted at the 90-percent level of confidence.

   The ATUS data also are affected by nonsampling error.  Nonsampling
error can occur for many reasons, including the failure to sample a
segment of the population, inability to obtain information for all
respondents in the sample, inability or unwillingness of respondents
to provide correct information, and errors made in the collection or
processing of the data.  Errors also could occur if nonresponse is
correlated with time use.

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Last Modified Date: August 03, 2021