Department of Labor Logo United States Department of Labor
Dot gov

The .gov means it's official.
Federal government websites often end in .gov or .mil. Before sharing sensitive information, make sure you're on a federal government site.

Https

The site is secure.
The https:// ensures that you are connecting to the official website and that any information you provide is encrypted and transmitted securely.

Economic News Release
PRINT:Print
ATUS ATUS Program Links

American Time Use Survey Technical Note

Technical Note 


   The estimates in this news 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 time.

   If you are deaf, hard of hearing, or have a speech disability, please dial 7-1-1 to
access telecommunications relay services. 

Survey methodology

   Data collection for the ATUS began in January 2003. Sample cases for the survey are 
selected monthly, and interviews are conducted continuously throughout the year. In 
2021, approximately 9,000 individuals 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 households are selected to ensure that
estimates will be nationally representative.

   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 day."

   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. Interviews 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 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 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, eldercare,
and secondary childcare activities. Secondary childcare is defined as having a child 
under age 13 in one's care while doing other activities.

   In addition, the ATUS includes an update of the household composition from the last CPS
interview (2 to 5 months prior to the ATUS interview), the labor force status of the 
respondent, and the employment status of his or her spouse or unmarried partner. For 
respondents who became employed or changed jobs between the last CPS interview and the
ATUS interview, information also is collected on industry, occupation, class of worker,
and earnings. Finally, 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 ATUS Coding Lexicon can be accessed at www.bls.gov/tus/lexicons.htm.

   Because of the complexity of coding everyday activities into narrowly defined lexicon
categories, coders use a comprehensive set of rules to guide their decisions. In order
to capture useful and detailed information, travel activities are coded according to
the purpose of travel. For more information about coding travel, see Exhibit 5.1 of 
the ATUS User's guide at www.bls.gov/tus/atususersguide.pdf.

Concepts and definitions

   Average day. The average day measure reflects an average distribution across all 
persons in the reference population and all days of the week. The ATUS collects data
about daily activities from all segments of the population age 15 and over, including
persons who are employed and not employed. Activity profiles differ based upon age,
employment status, sex, and other characteristics. For example, in 2021, persons in
the United States age 15 and over spent 3.2 hours per day working. By comparison, on
an average weekday they worked, full-time employed persons spent 8.5 hours working.
Many activities typically are not done on a daily basis, and some activities only are
done by a subset of the population.

   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 sample of the population, including those of 
     respondents who did not do a particular activity on their diary day. These 
     estimates reflect how many persons engaged in an activity and the amount of time
     they spent doing it.

   --Average hours per day, persons who did the activity. The average 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 the preceding Monday.

Earnings

   --Usual weekly earnings. Estimates represent the earnings of full-time wage and salary
     workers with one job only (both incorporated and unincorporated self-employed are
     excluded), before taxes and other deductions. They include any overtime pay, 
     commissions, or tips usually received. Usual weekly earnings are updated in the 
     ATUS for about 40 percent of wage and salary workers--if the respondent changed 
     jobs or employment status between the CPS and ATUS interviews, 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 quartiles. The ranges used for the quartiles represent 
     approximately 25 percent of full-time wage and salary workers (both incorporated 
     and unincorporated self-employed are excluded) who held only one job. For example,
     25 percent of full-time wage and salary workers with one job only had weekly 
     earnings of $690 or less in 2021. These dollar values vary from year to year.

Employment status

   --Employed. All persons who:

     1) At any time during the 7 days prior to the interview did any work at all as 
        paid employees, or worked in their own business or profession or on their own
        farm; or 

     2) Were not working during the 7 days prior to the interview but had jobs or 
        businesses from which they were temporarily absent because of 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; or

     3) Usually worked 15 hours or more as unpaid workers in a family-operated enterprise.

   --Employed full time. Full-time workers are those who usually worked 35 or more hours
     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. Those who are not employed include individuals classified as unemployed
     as well as those classified as not in the labor force (using CPS definitions).

   The numbers of employed and not employed persons in this release do not correspond to
published totals from the CPS for several reasons. First, the reference population for
the ATUS is age 15 and over, whereas it is age 16 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 collected during the week including
the 19th of the month and generally 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. While the
information on employment from the ATUS is useful for assessing work in the context of
other daily activities, the employment data are not intended for analysis of current 
employment trends. Compared with the CPS and other estimates of employment, the ATUS 
estimates 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, grandchildren, nieces or nephews, or brothers or sisters)
or not related (such as foster children or children of roommates or boarders).

   Primary activity. A primary activity is the main activity a respondent was doing at a
specified time. With the exception of secondary 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 exception of the care of children under age
13, information on secondary activities is not 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 at least one child under age 13 in their care while doing
other things. The time individuals spend providing secondary childcare is further
restricted to the time between when the first household child under age 13 woke up 
and when the last household child under age 13 went to bed. It is also restricted to 
times the respondent was awake. 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, excluding holidays. 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. Data were not collected about the Fourth of July
in 2021.

Major activity category definitions

   The following definitions describe the activity categories shown in this report. All
major time-use categories in this release include related 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 captured in this category. In general, 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 classified here.

   Household activities. Household activities are activities done by individuals 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 organizational activities (such as filling
out paperwork or planning a party). Food preparation, whether or not reported as 
done specifically for another household member, is always classified as a household
activity unless it was done as a volunteer, work, or income-generating activity. For
example, "making breakfast for my son" is coded as a household activity, not as 
childcare.

   Purchasing goods and services. This category includes time spent purchasing consumer
goods, professional and personal care services, household services, and government
services. Consumer purchases include most purchases and rentals of consumer goods,
regardless of the mode or place of purchase or rental (in person, online, via 
telephone, 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 personal 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 estate 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 service 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 assistance and purchasing government-required licenses or paying
fines or fees.

   Caring for and helping household members. Time spent doing activities to care for or
help any child (under age 18) or adult in the household, 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 with children; assisting with homework; 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 childcare.
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.

   Caring for and helping household members also includes a range of activities done
to benefit adult members of households, such as providing 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. This category includes time spent in
activities done to care for or help others--both children (under age 18) and 
adults--who do not live in the household. When done for or through an organization,
time spent helping nonhousehold 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 adult.

   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 and 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
selling homemade crafts, maintaining a rental property, or having a yard sale. These 
activities are those for which individuals are paid or will be paid. 

   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. Time spent taking classes for a degree or for personal 
interest (including attending school virtually and taking internet or other distance-
learning courses), time spent doing research and homework, and time spent taking care
of administrative tasks related to education (such as registering for classes or 
obtaining a school ID) are included in this category. 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 as an activity involving caring
for and helping others.

   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 
activities 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 specific religions or denominations, such as 
attending religious services; participating in choirs, youth groups, 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 time spent in sports, 
exercise, and recreation; socializing and communicating; and other leisure activities.
Sports, exercise, and recreation activities include participating in--as well as 
attending or watching--sports, exercise, and recreational activities. Recreational
activities include yard games like croquet or horseshoes, as well as activities like
billiards and dancing. 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 interest; playing or listening
to music; and other activities, such as attending arts, cultural, and entertainment
events.

   Telephone calls, mail, and e-mail. This category captures time spent in telephone
communication and household or personal mail or e-mail. This category also includes
texting and internet voice and video calling. Telephone and internet purchases are
classified in Purchasing goods and services. 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 associated 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 imputation procedure.
Responses to CPS questions that are re-asked 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 childcare) also are imputed. Missing activities and missing values for 
who was present during an activity are never imputed.

   ATUS records are weighted quarterly to reduce bias in the estimates due to 
differences 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 represent
     about 2/7 of the weighted data for the population as a whole and for selected 
     subpopulations. 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 subpopulations.

Reliability of the estimates

   Statistics based on the ATUS are subject to both sampling and nonsampling error.
When a sample, rather than the entire population, is surveyed, estimates differ 
from the true population values they represent. The component of this difference
that occurs because samples differ by chance is known as sampling error, and its
variability is measured by the standard error of the estimate.

   Sample estimates from a given survey design are unbiased when an average of the
estimates from all possible samples would yield, hypothetically, the true 
population value. In this case, the sample estimate and its standard error can be
used to construct approximate confidence intervals, or ranges of values that 
include the true population value with known probabilities. If the process of
selecting a sample from the population were repeated many times, an estimate made
from each sample, and a suitable estimate of its standard error calculated for
each sample, then approximately 90 percent of the intervals from 1.645 standard 
errors below the estimate to 1.645 standard errors above the estimate would 
include the true population value. BLS analyses are generally conducted at the 
90-percent level of confidence.

   The ATUS data also are affected by nonsampling error, which is the average
difference between population and sample values for samples generated by a given
process. Nonsampling error can occur for many reasons, including failure to sample
a segment of the population, inability to obtain information for all persons 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.

Publication requirements

   Estimates of average hours per day and participation rates are not published 
unless there are a minimum number of respondents representing the given 
population. Additional publication criteria are applied that include the number
of respondents who reported doing a specified activity and the standard error or 
coefficient of variation for the estimate. Estimates that are considered "close
to zero" or that round to 0.00, are published as approximately zero or "z". For
a detailed description of the statistical reliability criteria necessary for
publication, please contact ATUS staff at ATUSinfo@bls.gov.



Last Modified Date: September 27, 2023