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Economic News Release
ATUS ATUS Program Links

Unpaid eldercare in the United States -- 2011 Data from the American Time Use Survey Technical Note

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
impaired individuals upon request. Voice phone:  (202) 691-5200;
Federal Relay Service:  (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
continuously throughout the year. In 2011, approximately 12,500
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 nationís 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
   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 ("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 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 activities. 
Secondary childcare is defined as having a child under age 13 in oneís 
care while doing other activities. Questions to identify eldercare 
providers and activities done as eldercare were added to the survey in 
   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 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. For those who
are unemployed 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. 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 2011 ATUS Coding Lexicon can be accessed at

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. Average day measures for the entire population
provide a mechanism for seeing the overall distribution of time
allocation for society as a whole. 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, gender, and other
characteristics. On an average day in 2011, persons in the U.S. age
15 and over did work and work-related activities for 3.6 hours, slept
8.7 hours, spent 5.2 hours doing leisure and sports activities, and
spent 1.8 hours doing household activities. The remaining 4.7 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 remaining 3.4 hours were spent in 
other activities, such as those described 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 42 percent of all persons age 15 years and over worked on an
average day in 2011 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 activity on their
     diary day. These estimates reflect how many population members 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.

   --Condition related to aging. An ongoing ailment or physical or emotional 
     limitation that typically affects older people, such as becoming more 
     frail; having difficulty seeing, hearing, or physically moving; becoming 
     more forgetful; tiring more quickly; or having specific medical ailments 
     that are more common among older adults. It also refers to existing 
     conditions that become progressively worse as one ages.
   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. 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 only updated in ATUS for
     about a third of employed respondents--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 ranges. The ranges used 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 $520 or less. These dollar values vary
     from year to year.

   Eldercare. Eldercare is providing unpaid care or assistance to an
individual who needed help because of a condition related to aging.
This care can be provided by a family member or non-family member.
Care can be provided in the recipientís home, the providerís home, or
a care facility, such as in a nursing home.

   Eldercare can involve a range of care activities, such as assisting
with grooming and feeding, preparing meals, arranging medical care,
and providing transportation. Eldercare also can involve providing
companionship or being available to assist when help is needed, and
thus it can be associated with nearly any activity.

   Estimates of the time spent providing eldercare are derived by
summing the durations of activities during which respondents provided
care or assistance for an adult who needed help because of a condition
related to aging. These estimates never include times the respondent
reported Personal care activities or Personal care services.

   Eldercare provider. An individual who provided eldercare more than
one time in the 3 to 4 months prior to the interview day. The time
frame varies slightly by respondent because the question asks about
care provided between the first day of a given reference month and the
interview day. Estimates are restricted to eldercare providers caring
for at least one person age 65 or older.

   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 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 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
collected 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 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 siblings) or not related (such as foster children or 
children of roommates).
   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 and eldercare in table 16, 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 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 household 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 household 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 Yearís Day, Easter, Memorial
Day, the Fourth of July, Labor Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas
Day. In 2011, the telephone call center was closed the day after
Christmas Day, so data were not collected about this holiday. Data
were not collected about New Yearís Day in 2007, Christmas Day in
2008, and the Fourth of July in 2010.

Major activity category definitions
   The following definitions describe the activity categories shown 
in this report. All major time-use categories in Tables 1-12 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. Activity
categories in Table 16--which details time spent providing
eldercare--are slightly different than those in Tables 1-12:
Traveling appears as a separate activity rather than being combined
with each of the major activity categories, and the composition of
Other activities, not elsewhere classified, has changed.
   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 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 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 purchases of
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, 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
   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 stamps--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 to children; assistance 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. 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 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 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
selling 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
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, 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 leisure 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 interest; playing or listening to music; and
other activities, such as attending arts, cultural, and entertainment
   Telephone calls, mail, and e-mail. This category captures
telephone communication and handling household or personal mail or e-
mail. 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.
   Traveling. This category includes all travel, regardless of mode
or purpose, as well as security procedures related to traveling. All
major time-use categories in Tables 1-12 include related travel time
and waiting time; therefore, no Traveling category appears in these
   Other activities, not elsewhere classified. This is a residual
category intended to capture activities not elsewhere classified in
each table. These might be ambiguous activities that could not be
coded, missing activities, or activities that occurred very
infrequently. Missing activities result when respondents do not
remember what they did for a period of time, or when they consider an
activity too private or personal to report. In Tables 1-12, this
category also includes security procedures related to traveling and
traveling that is not associated with a specific activity category, as
no Traveling category appears in these tables. In Table 16, this
category includes the small amount of time that was spent in
educational activities, as no Educational activities category appears
in this table.

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 

   --Weekdays represent about 5/7 of the weighted data, and weekend
     days each represent about 1/7 of the weighted data for the population
     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

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 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 non-response is correlated with time

   Nonsampling error and eldercare. Eldercare done for a spouse
or partner may be underreported, especially when the care provided has
only recently become necessary. For example, a survey respondent who
has always prepared the family dinner may not view cooking as an
eldercare activity; if her husband is no longer capable of preparing
his own meals, though, he depends on this assistance and it meets the
definition of eldercare.

   Additionally, nonsampling error affects data on the frequency of
care. Survey respondents were asked how often they provided eldercare
in recent months and whether they provided eldercare on the diary day.
Information about care provided on the diary day was used to calculate
daily participation rates. There are some inconsistencies between the
reported frequency of care and the actual provision of eldercare on an
average day. For example, in 2011, only 65 percent of eldercare
providers who self-reported providing care "daily" actually provided
eldercare on an average day. This discrepancy reflects some
respondentsí choice of "daily" rather than "several times a week" or
another option to best describe their eldercare frequency, even while
acknowledging they had not provided care on the diary day.

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 "~0."  For
a detailed description of the statistical reliability criteria necessary 
for publication, please contact ATUS staff at

Table of Contents

Last Modified Date: November 02, 2020