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August 2010, Vol. 133, No. 8
Time-use surveys: issues in data collection on multitasking
Robert W. Drago and Jay C. Stewart
Robert W. Drago is research director at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, Washington, DC; Jay C. Stewart is Division Chief, Division of Productivity Research and Program Development, Office of Productivity and Technology, Bureau of Labor Statistics. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
Secondary–activity reports from the American Time Use Survey are not as good as those from the Family Interaction, Social Capital, and Trends in Time Use survey; statistical analysis reveals that the difference is attributable to the fact that such reports are requested in the former, but volunteered in the latter.
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Time-use surveys collect information on how people spend their time. In the American Time Use Survey (ATUS), as in many other time-use surveys, respondents are asked to report sequentially what they did on the day before the interview. The reports they provide offer a detailed look at how Americans spend their time. However, the picture is not complete because the ATUS does not have information on multitasking (secondary activities).
Why might researchers be interested in multitasking? First, researchers studying work-life balance are interested in the extent to which people, especially women, multitask to get more out of their day. Second, researchers who wish to measure household production would want to include household work that is done as a secondary activity. Third, for many questions, it is important to capture all episodes of a particular activity. For example, researchers interested in the causes of obesity may want to examine eating as a secondary activity or which activities people combine with eating when it is the primary activity. Fourth, secondary activities can provide a more complete picture of childcare, because much childcare is done as a secondary activity. The ATUS already collects information on passive childcare (having children "in your care" while doing something else), but does not capture activities such as reading to and playing with children while waiting or traveling (as a passenger).
Although the ATUS does not ask respondents to report secondary activities, the information is recorded if the respondent volunteers that he or she was doing something else at the same time. However, only the primary activity is coded. For example, if the respondent reports eating as a primary activity and watching television as a secondary activity, both activities are recorded but only eating is coded. Surveys that systematically collect information on secondary activities (for example, the Australian Government’s time-use survey and some of the earlier U.S. surveys) do so by asking respondents, "What else were you doing?"
This excerpt is from an article published in the August 2010 issue of the Monthly Labor Review. The full text of the article is available in Adobe Acrobat's Portable Document Format (PDF). See How to view a PDF file for more information.
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American Time Use Survey
Time use of working parents: a visual essay.—Jun. 2008.
How high school students use time: a visual essay.—Nov. 2008.
Measuring intrahousehold allocation of time: response to Anne E. Winkler.—Feb. 2002.
Measuring time use in households with more than one person.—Feb. 2002.
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