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 news 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 2016, approximately 10,500 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 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, eldercare, and secondary
childcare activities. Secondary childcare is defined as having a child under
age 13 in one's care while doing other activities.

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), the labor force
status of the respondent, and the employment status of 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. 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

Because of the complexity of coding everyday activities into narrowly-defined
lexicon categories, coders use a comprehensive set of rules to guide their
decisions. Travel activities have more complicated coding rules than other
activities captured in the ATUS. In order to capture useful and detailed
information, travel activities are coded according to the purpose of travel.
For more information, see Exhibit 5.1 of the ATUS User's guide 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. 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. For example, persons in the United States age 15 and over
spend between 3 and 4 hours per day doing work and work-related activities.
By comparison, on an average weekday they worked, full-time employed persons
spend around 9 hours doing work and work-related activities. Many activities
typically are not done on a daily basis, and some activities only are done by
a subset of the population.

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 the preceding


   --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 $580 or less in 2016. 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

   --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

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

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, excluding holidays. 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, and Christmas Day in 2014 and 2016.

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

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

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 activity.

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, 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 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.

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 nonresponse 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 at

Table of Contents

Last Modified Date: June 27, 2017