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What’s Work?Respondents’ Interpretations of Work‐Related Summary Questions

Lisa K. Schwartz, Siri Lynn, and Jayme Gortman


The American Time Use Survey (ATUS) measures how people spend their time, what they spend their time doing, and with whom they spend it. The interview consists of several parts including an update of key CPS variables, a 24-hour time diary, and several summary questions that clarify and/or augment diary reports. This paper focuses on the development of effective employment probes and summary question to clarify which activities reported in the diary should be coded as work activities. Testing specifically focused on participants who work from nonstandard work environments, who work non-traditional work hours, or who hold more than one job. Based on the findings, it was recommended that during the time diary, interviewers should selectively probe for activities that were done for work but may not be included as work by the respondent. Researchers also recommended new wording of the paid work summary questions and recommended the development of a help screen to address concerns about confidentiality and perceived intrusiveness. The authors also recommended clearer definitions for several of the employment concepts.