Economic News Release

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 time.

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
2013, approximately 11,400 individuals were interviewed. Estimates are released

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
("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 one's
care while doing other activities. Questions to identify eldercare providers and
activities done as eldercare were added to the survey in 2011.

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) and the employment
status 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 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 2013, persons in the
United States age 15 and over did work and work-related activities for 3.5 hours,
slept 8.7 hours, spent 5.3 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,
7.8 hours sleeping, 2.8 hours doing leisure and sports activities, and 0.9 hour 
doing household activities. The remaining 3.3 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 2013 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.

   --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.

Employment status

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

   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; or

   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, 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 Year's Day, Easter,
Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, Labor Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas Day. Data
were not collected about New Year's Day in 2012, Christmas Day in 2011, 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.

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 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 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, and
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 categories.

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 events.

Telephone calls, mail, and e-mail. This category captures telephone communication and
handling 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. The actual
     proportions depend on the number of weekdays and weekend days in a given 

   --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 non-response is correlated with time

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: June 18, 2014
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