Department of Labor Logo United States Department of Labor
Dot gov

The .gov means it's official.
Federal government websites often end in .gov or .mil. Before sharing sensitive information, make sure you're on a federal government site.


The site is secure.
The https:// ensures that you are connecting to the official website and that any information you provide is encrypted and transmitted securely.

Economic News Release
ATUS ATUS Program Links

American Time Use Survey Technical Note

Technical Note

The estimates in this news release are averages based on 2019 and 2020 data from
the American Time Use Survey (ATUS). Estimates are representative of the period
May 10th through December 31st in each year. 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 except for a brief shutdown in the spring of 2020,
interviews are conducted continuously throughout the year.  Estimates are released

In 2020, ATUS time use data were not collected about March 17th through May 9th
because survey operations temporarily paused during the COVID-19 pandemic. Estimates
in this release are representative of May 10th through December 31st, which 
highlights the 2020 ATUS data that were collected during the pandemic. For 
comparison, estimates representative of May 10th through December 31st, 2019 also
are shown. During this period, 6,666 individuals were interviewed in 2020 and 5,868
individuals in 2019. For more information about the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic
on the ATUS, see:

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. If respondents report doing more than one activity at a time, they
are asked to identify which one was the "main" (primary) activity. For most activities,
interviewers also ask respondents where they were and who was in the room with them
(if at home or someone else's home) or who accompanied them (if away from home). This
information is not collected about personal care activities (such as sleeping and
grooming), times respondents could not remember what they did for a period of time,
and times respondents considered an activity too private or personal to report.
Additionally, information about whether others were present is not collected when
respondents report attending high school classes. Questions about who was present were
designed to collect information about people the survey respondents know. For example,
if someone reported grocery shopping with their child, then the child's presence would
be recorded, but the presence of other grocery shoppers would not be recorded. After
completing the time diary, interviewers ask respondents 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. In order
to capture useful and detailed information, travel activities are coded according to the
purpose of travel. For more information about coding travel, 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,
sex, and other characteristics. For example, during the period May 10th to December 31st,
2020, persons in the United States age 15 and over spent an average of 3.0 hours per day
working. By comparison, on an average day they worked, full-time employed persons spent
8.1 hours working. 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 engaged in 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 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 updated in the ATUS for about 40
   percent of wage and salary workers--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 quartiles. The ranges used for the quartiles represent approximately 25
percent of full-time wage and salary workers (both incorporated and unincorporated self-
employed are excluded) who held only one job. The quartiles represent the periods May 10th
through December 31st in 2019 and 2020. For example, during this period in 2019, 25 percent
of full-time wage and salary workers with one job only had weekly earnings of $640 or less
and, in 2020, 25 percent of these workers had earnings of $700 or less. Weekly earnings in
the 25th to 50th percentile range amounted to $641 to $1,000 in 2019 and $701 to $1,050 in
2020. Weekly earnings in the 50th to 75th percentile range were $1,001 to $1,620 in 2019
and $1,051 to $1,730 in 2020. Those earning greater than the 75th percentile had earnings
of $1,621 and higher in 2019 and $1,731 and higher in 2020. 

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.
   Those who are not employed include individuals 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 and over, whereas it is age 16 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. Third, the CPS accepts answers from household members about other household members
whereas such proxy responses are not allowed in the ATUS. Finally, the time frame used in
this release differs from those used for CPS estimates. 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 8, 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 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.

Waking hours. Estimates of waking hours are an average of time spent doing activities
other than sleeping, napping, or trying to sleep. The term waking hours is used in
analyses of where and with whom people spent their time because this information only
is collected when people are awake.

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:  Memorial
Day, the Fourth of July, Labor Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas Day. 

Major activity category definitions
The following definitions describe the activity categories shown in this report. Unlike
in prior ATUS news releases, major activity categories do not include associated travel.
Travel is reported as a separate activity category because the time people spent traveling 
is of particular interest during the pandemic.

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 individuals 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, online, via telephone,
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 assistance 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; assisting 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 individuals are paid or will be paid. 

Educational activities. Time spent taking classes for a degree or for personal interest
(including attending school virtually and 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, 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.

Travel. This category includes time spent traveling from one destination to another,
regardless of mode or purpose. It includes walking and cycling as a mode of transportation,
but not when they are done for exercise or other reasons. The category also includes 
security procedures related to traveling and miscellaneous travel activities, such 
as checking in for a flight.

Other activities, not elsewhere classified. This residual category includes 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 and for selected subpopulations.
   The actual proportions depend on the number of weekdays and weekend days in a given

 --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.

In this report, data for the second quarter in 2019 and 2020 were weighted to represent
the number of days, weekdays, and weekend days in the period May 10th through June 30th
because data were not collected about April 1st through May 9th, 2020.

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 "z." For a detailed description of the statistical reliability criteria
necessary for publication, please contact ATUS staff at

Table of Contents

Last Modified Date: July 22, 2021