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 2013–2014,
nearly 23,000 individuals were interviewed for the ATUS; of these, approximately 3,700 individuals
were identified as eldercare providers. Data for the combined years of 2013–2014 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.
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 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
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
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.
• 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. Data were not collected about Christmas
Day in 2014.
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.
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, babysitting, 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
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 non-response 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 2013–2014, 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.