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.

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 2014, approximately 11,600 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 
("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 2014, persons in the United 
States age 15 and over did work and work-related activities for 3.6 hours, slept 8.8 
hours, spent 5.3 hours doing leisure and sports activities, and spent 1.8 hours doing 
household activities. The remaining 4.5 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 9.3 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 3.2 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 2014 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 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 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 one-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 $560 or less in 2014. 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. People who are 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 release 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 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. 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 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 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 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. 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 2014, 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 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 people 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, 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 with 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 

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, 
babysitting, maintaining a rental property, or having a yard sale. These 
activities are those for which people 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 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, 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 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 

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

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Last Modified Date: June 24, 2015