Unpaid Eldercare in the United States-—2013-14 Technical Note

Technical Note

The estimates in this release are 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. In the 2-year period of 2013–2014, 
nearly 23,000 individuals were interviewed for the ATUS; of these, approximately 3,700 individuals 
were identified as eldercare providers. Data for the combined years of 2013–2014 were used to 
facilitate a more in-depth analysis of eldercare.
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 
ATUS sample households are chosen from the households that completed their eighth (final) interview 
for the Current Population Survey (CPS), the nation’s monthly labor force survey. ATUS sample 
households are selected to ensure that estimates will be nationally representative of the civilian 
noninstitutional population. One individual age 15 or over is randomly chosen from each sampled 
household. This person is interviewed by telephone once about his or her activities on the day 
before the interview.
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 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 their main activity. If none can be identified, the interviewer records the first activity 
mentioned. After completing the time diary, interviewers ask additional questions, including 
questions to identify eldercare providers and activities done as eldercare. Questions on eldercare 
were added to the survey in 2011.

After completing the interview, 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. Descriptions of categories shown in this release can be 
found in the Activity definitions section of this Technical Note. The ATUS Coding Lexicons can be 
accessed at www.bls.gov/tus/lexicons.htm.

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 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.

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 recipient’s home, the provider’s home, or a care facility such as 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 sleeping, 
grooming, or engaging in 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: 
	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, 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).

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. 

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 Christmas 
Day in 2014.

Activity definitions

The following definitions describe the activities associated with eldercare appearing in this 
release. These are diary activities that survey respondents identified as ones during which they 
had provided care or assistance for an adult who needed help because of a condition related to 

Eating and drinking. All time spent eating or drinking (except eating and drinking done as part 
of a work or volunteer activity) 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. 

Purchasing goods and services. This category includes time spent obtaining, receiving, and 
purchasing consumer goods, professional services, household services, and government services. 
Consumer purchases include most purchases and rentals of consumer goods. Professional services 
refer to financial services and banking, legal services, medical and adult care services, real 
estate services, and veterinary services. 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 members of 
the household, regardless of relationship to the respondent or the physical or mental health 
status of the person being helped, is classified here. This category includes a range of 
activities done to benefit members of households, such as providing physical and medical care 
or obtaining medical services.

Caring for and helping nonhousehold members. This category includes time spent in activities 
done to care for or help individuals 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.

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.

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. 

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 handling household or personal mail or e-mail. This category also includes texting and Internet 
voice and video calling.

Traveling. This category includes all travel, regardless of mode or purpose, as well as security 
procedures related to traveling.

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. This category includes a small amount of time that 
was spent in educational activities, as no educational activities category appears in the tables.

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 also are 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 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 (the population times the number of days in the quarter).

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 use.

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 2013–2014, only 64 percent 
of eldercare providers who self-reported providing care "daily" actually provided eldercare on 
an average day. This discrepancy reflects some respondents’ 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.

ATUS publication standards

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. For a detailed 
description of the statistical reliability criteria necessary for publication, please contact 
ATUS staff at ATUSinfo@bls.gov.

Table of Contents

Last Modified Date: July 15, 2016