Unpaid Eldercare in the United States--2015-16 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 2015–16,
approximately 21,000 individuals were interviewed for the ATUS; of these, approximately 3,400
individuals were identified as eldercare providers. Data for the combined years of 2015–16 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 www.bls.gov/tus/lexicons.htm.

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 day.

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 time. 

Weekday, weekend, and holiday estimates. Estimates for weekdays are an average of reports about
Monday through Friday. 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. In 2016, data were not collected about
Christmas Day.

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 aging.  

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 activities. 

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. 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 eldercare. 

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
2015–16, only 64 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 ATUSinfo@bls.gov.



Table of Contents

Last Modified Date: September 20, 2017