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Measuring How People Spend Time

Linda L. Stinson


Time-use studies typically have a single focus: the duration of human activities. That is, they ask respondents to report everything they did during a 24-hour period along with the starting and stopping times of those actions. This chronological reporting procedure avoids many of the pitfalls of other survey estimation procedures and is less subject to distortion due to social desirability bias. But there are many methodological considerations to take into account when designing a time-use survey. Decisions concerning reporting procedures and mode of data collection may influence data quality. Likewise, the choice of follow-up probes and the treatment of simultaneous activities can determine the amount of information available for accurate and reliable coding of activities. This paper will describe the methodological decisions with which we were faced when designing a time-use survey and introduce the choices that may be made.