Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What is the American Time Use Survey?
The American Time Use Survey asks questions about how people spend their time. Time is a resource—just like money—and knowing how people spend their time helps answer important questions.
How much time do Americans spend working? Sleeping? In transit?
What is the value to the country of volunteer work?
How much time is spent in education or training? Is this trend increasing or decreasing?
How much time do people spend taking care of children and elderly parents?
What do people do with their time when they retire?
How often do people exercise, and what sorts of activities do they do for exercise?
Do people in different parts of the country spend their time differently?
Do men and women spend their time in different activities?
What is the quality of life like in the United States, and how does it compare to other countries?
Who conducts the survey?
The U.S. Census Bureau, under contract with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), collects and processes the data.
The BLS analyzes and publishes the information. The Census Bureau removes all confidential information from the data files, such as name and address,before the data are sent to the BLS.
Why is the government collecting this information?
ATUS data allow the government to better understand the country's economic well-being. Other surveys already collect information on activities people are paid to do.
However, people do a lot of important things for themselves, their families, and their communities for which they don't get paid. ATUS allows us to collect information on how much time people spend doing these activities, such as childcare, housework, and volunteer work.
Before the American Time Use Survey, some economists said that the lack of information on how Americans spend a critical resource—their time—was the largest gap in the Federal statistical system. Most other industrialized countries began collecting time-use data years ago. With ATUS data, researchers are now able to make comparisons between the United States and other countries on time-use patterns and domestic economic output.
ATUS data, such as how much people sleep or exercise, also help us understand health trends in the United States.
When did the American Time Use Survey begin?
BLS began collecting data in January 2003, and published the first annual estimates in September 2004. More information on the history of ATUS is available on this Web site.
Have any of the findings been published?
Yes. BLS released estimates for 2003 through 2011. Numerous national and international newspapers and magazines have published articles featuring ATUS estimates. Researchers have also written journal articles and papers using ATUS data. Recent results from ATUS are available on this Web site.
Survey procedures questions
I've just completed the Current Population Survey (CPS). Why was I selected to participate in another survey?
We realize your time is valuable. By interviewing people in households that participated in the CPS, we avoid having to re-ask
much of the information that was gathered in the CPS. This allows us to develop a nationally-representative sample with fewer interviews than
if we did not have information about households in advance. This also reduces the costs for taxpayers and the survey length for respondents.
Your cooperation in the CPS and the ATUS is a valuable contribution to the success of both surveys.
How many interviews will I be required to complete?
The American Time Use Survey is a one-time only survey.
How long will the survey take?
This one-time survey takes 15 to 20 minutes to complete, from the minute you pick up the phone.
How will I be interviewed?
Census Bureau interviewers conduct this one-time only survey over the telephone.
What kinds of questions will I be asked?
You will be asked to recall how you spent your time during the 24-hour period on the day before your interview. You will also be asked a few additional questions related to your time-use.
I don't have time to complete the survey. Can someone else in my household complete the survey instead?
You were carefully selected to represent thousands of other people in households similar to yours. Unfortunately, we cannot interview
other members of your household, but we can work with you to set up a convenient interview time.
Why must I be interviewed on a specific day of the week?
To capture a full picture of time use on all days of the week, we assigned you a specific day of the week as your interview day.
We know that some days may be busier than others. If we selected you to participate in the ATUS, but you are unavailable at the time of the interview, we would be happy to call you on the same day the following week. You can always call to schedule a time for the interview that is more convenient for you.
Your time is very important—we know because we study it.
Can you just mail me a time diary to fill out?
We do not have a paper copy of the survey because we designed it to be conducted over the phone. Research shows that people frequently forget everyday activities,
and those activities are just as important as unusual activities that are easier to remember. An important part of the survey is having it conducted by a trained
interviewer who helps you remember all your activities from the previous day.
Am I required to participate in the survey?
Your participation in this survey is voluntary. However, you have been selected to represent Americans similar to yourself.
Your contribution helps to ensure our time-use data are as reliable and accurate as possible.
I'm retired. Why are you interested in how I spend my time?
Because retirees are the fastest growing segment of the U.S. population, we are particularly interested in you. We are interested in your quality of life—things like how much time you spend exercising, eating, shopping for groceries, or going to the doctor's office. Many retired Americans are taking care of their spouses or grandchildren; we want to know more about the responsibilities you must balance each day.
I'm a stay-at-home mom. Why are you interested in how I spend my time?
You represent a segment of the population that frequently performs activities—cooking, cleaning, and childcare—that have not been measured regularly in government surveys. Before this survey, data were not available on these activities that are so important to a family's quality of life. With the ATUS, the government can now measure the time spent in these activities and their effect on our country's well-being.
All I do is work. Why are you interested in how I spend my time?
BLS is the principal fact-finding agency for the Federal Government in the field of labor economics and statistics. BLS has a particular interest in measuring hours worked by employees—both hours worked at your place of employment, and hours worked in other locations such as your home. Data on how many hours people work and where they work can provide insight into how work affects time spent in other activities. Knowing how many hours people work can also help BLS better measure productivity of the American worker.
My typical day is pretty boring. Why are you interested in how I spend my time?
While you may feel your typical day is not that exciting, we are still interested in finding out how Americans squeeze routine activities, such as housework and errands, into their schedules. Many respondents who complete the interview comment that they are surprised to remember how many activities they complete in one day.
Why are you interested in speaking with my teenager?
How teenagers balance school, work, and time with family and friends is an important topic for educators, health professionals, and others. Additionally, understanding how teenagers' activities change over time can tell us a lot about how American culture and education may be changing.
If you are the parent or guardian of someone under age 18 who was selected for this survey, you are welcome to be on the line during the interview.
Who will use this information?
Many different people use ATUS data. Economists use it to measure activities such as childcare and volunteer work. Sociologists and other researchers use it to look at
how we balance work and family activities. Public officials use the data from specific populations, such as the elderly,
teens, or the working poor, to help develop programs and services to address their special needs.
If I think a question is too personal, do I have to answer it?
No. You do not need to answer a question or report an activity that you feel is too personal. The activities you do report are converted to numeric codes which allow for statistical analysis. All of your personal identifying information, such as name and address, is not reported.
Are my responses and personal information kept confidential?
Yes. BLS and the Census Bureau understand the importance of keeping your information confidential. Title 13, United States Code, Section 8, authorizes the U.S. Census Bureau to conduct this survey. Section 9 of Title 13, United States Code, requires us to keep all information about you and your household strictly confidential and that the information be used only for statistical purposes. In compliance with this law, all data released to the public are only in a statistical format. No information that could personally identify you or your family is released. Violation of this law is a federal crime that is associated with severe penalties, including a federal prison sentence of up to five years, a fine of up to $250,000, or both. More information on the Census Bureau's data protection policies are available on their Web site.
Can I contact someone to discuss my concerns before completing the survey?
Yes. If you would like to discuss any concerns or ask additional questions about the survey, you may contact Census Bureau employees at 1-800-331-4706 or ATUSInfo@census.gov.
Last Modified Date: January 3, 2013