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

Unpaid Eldercare in the United States--2017-2018 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 2017–18, approximately 20,000 individuals were interviewed for the ATUS; of these,
approximately 3,100 individuals were identified as eldercare providers. Data for the combined
years of 2017–18 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--referred to as the
designated person--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

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

   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 

   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 2017.

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, or when 
done for a nonhousehold member. 

   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, 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 

   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 and for selected subpopulations. 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 nonresponse 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 

   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 2017–18, only 66 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

Table of Contents

Last Modified Date: November 22, 2019