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Gender Convergence in the American Heritage Time use Study (AHTUS)

Abstract

We present evidence from a new comprehensive database of harmonized national time-diary data that standardizes information on almost 40 years of daily life in America. The advantages of the diary method over other ways of calculating how time is spent are reviewed, along with its ability to generate more reliable and accurate measures of productive activity than respondent estimates or other alternatives. We then discuss the various procedures used to develop these harmonized data, both to standardize reporting detail and to match with Census Bureau population characteristics. We then use these data to document historical shifts in Americans’ use of time, particularly focusing on gendered change in paid and unpaid work. We explore these data to find new and more complex evidence of continuing gender convergence, not just in aggregated totals of hours worked, but also in (1) the distributions of activity through the day and the week, (2) the sorts of activities that marital partners do together, as well as (3) the processes of construction of the diary accounts themselves.

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Correspondence to John P. Robinson.

Additional information

The AHTUS archive data may be downloaded from http://www.timeuse.org/ahtus/

APPENDIX – BRIEF INTRODUCTION TO THE AHTUS

APPENDIX – BRIEF INTRODUCTION TO THE AHTUS

Summary Description

This appendix covers additional information on the AHTUS. AHTUS data and documentation may be downloaded from http://www.timeuse.org/ahtus/.11

The open-ended diary reports from each of the original USA surveys were coded using a standard activity coding scheme, largely based on the code list developed for the 1965 Szalai (1972) project, consisting of about 100 (or which 85 are available in surviving datasets) general (“2-digit”) activity codes, and sometimes broken down into a more detailed “3-digit” classification with approximately 250 activity categories. The designers of the BLS survey devised a new classification scheme, influenced by the Eurostat (2004) 167 category activity classification from the HETUS and the Australian Bureau of Statistics code frame (215 activity codes), but which also reflected the priorities of various US government agencies, such as time spent completing security procedures. The ATUS code includes 564 categories, which have been reduced in the AHTUS to 92 categories which appear in the majority of the surveys (detailed below).

In additional to making the harmonization programs available to researchers, the dataset includes three harmonized data files for each original survey:

  • a respondent-level file with harmonized information about individuals and households

  • a diary-level file coded into 92 main activity categories

  • an episode-level file in which each row contains each activity recorded by each diarist

The episode level file contains the full breakdown of context information (to the extent recorded) for each episode – the main activity, any simultaneous secondary activity, its location (see below), mode of transport (see below), and who else was present.

The AHTUS’ provision of this episode-level data is unique among harmonized comparative time-use archives. The diary-level file with its aggregated totals of time devoted to primary activities is made available for the simplest sorts of summary statistical calculations, but we expect that a growing proportion of analysts will start with the episode file, using relevant context information to construct a summary file appropriate to the analyst’s needs. The episode file also allows analysis of patterns of activity and timing of activities through the day.

Surveys Currently Included in the AHTUS

1965–1966 Time-use survey

The oldest dataset included in the AHTUS is the 1965 survey collected by the Survey Research Center at the University of Michigan. This study has two relatively small samples, one which followed the Szalai survey methodology (to sample a typical industrial mid-sized urban location), and a second national sample of all urban areas (with 2021 diaries collected across both samples). Both surveys sampled households where at least one member was employed in an industry other than agriculture, then selected one adult aged 19–65 to keep a single-day diary of activities. Respondents in this 1965 survey completed “tomorrow” diaries, that is respondents were visited by an interviewer who explained and left the diary to be filled out for the following day; the interviewer then returned on the day after that “diary day” to check over, correct and collect the completed diary (Robinson, 1977). Sayer et al. (2004) compared the 1965 sample characteristics with parallel characteristics from the March 1965 CPS, and concluded that its sample closely approximates U.S. population characteristics. An analysis of the full national sample of 1975 diaries indicated that the activities reported by that full sample matched those who would have met the 1965 criteria (Juster and Stafford, 1985).

1975–1976 American’s use of time: time use in economic and social accounts survey

In 1975, the Survey Research Center, University of Michigan, personally interviewed 1519 adult respondents aged 18 and over, who reported diaries for the previous day in the Fall of that year (Robinson, 1976); in addition, diaries were obtained from 887 spouses of these designated respondents, which increased the sample size to 2406 respondents. These respondents became part of a panel, who were subsequently re-interviewed in the Winter, Spring, and Summer months of 1976.12 High levels of attrition in the later panel waves and problems in using the original file (which is not at all user-friendly, and contains some hitherto unidentified major errors13) explain why virtually all previous analyses (including Aguiar and Hurst, 2006) have simply ignored the subsequent waves, and analyzed only the first wave (including spouses) – adopting appropriate weights to compensate for the over-representation of couple households. In the AHTUS files, we have adopted precisely the opposite approach, using all four waves of data (with additional sample weights to compensate for non-response). As the spouse diaries include less information than main respondent diaries (spouses were asked to record main activity and location only, while main respondent diaries include main and secondary activity, location, and presence of others), we produced a separate supplementary file that included both the main respondent and the spouse diaries for all four waves with distribution and attrition weights. In this paper we use only the main respondent file.

1985 American’s use of time survey

In 1985, the Survey Research Center at the University of Maryland conducted a national study in which single-day diaries were collected from more than 5300 respondents aged 12 and over. This study employed the same basic open-ended diary approach as the 1965 and 1975 national studies. An important innovation in the 1985 study was the explicit attempt to spread the collection of diary days across the entire calendar year, from January through December 1985.

The 1985 study included experimentation with mode of data collection. The majority of diaries in the 1985 study were collected by a mail-back method from a sample of Americans who were first contacted and completed a “yesterday” diary by telephone, using the random-digit-dial (RDD) method of selecting telephone numbers. If the respondent agreed, diaries were then mailed out for each member of the participating household, aged 12 or over, to complete for a particular day for the subsequent week. Respondents completed and then mailed back their time diaries for coding and analysis.

Some 3340 diaries from 997 households were returned using this mail-out procedure during the 12 months of 1985. The other 1985 data included parallel diary data from 808 additional respondents interviewed in a separate personal-interview sample in the summer and fall of 1985, in addition to the 1210 “yesterday” diaries obtained by telephone as part of the initial contact. Unfortunately, the episode level data are no longer available for the personal-interview and telephone-interview samples. The AHTUS episode file consequently covers only the mail-back sample, and early testing of this file suggests that some degree of error remains in the data (Gershuny, 2005). We use only aggregated data from the 1985 mail-back sample in this article.

1992–1994 National human activity pattern survey (NHAPS)

The University of Maryland’s Survey Research Center conducted national RDD telephone interviews between September 1992 and October 1994, collecting 9386 diaries about the previous day from respondents of all ages (parents were asked to complete diaries for young children when a young child was selected as the diary keeper in the household). Only those respondents aged 18 and above are included in the main AHTUS files, with diaries from younger people in separate supplementary files (not used in the foregoing analysis). This study did not include pivotal questions about marital status and income. A 1995 survey followed a similar methodology (for people aged 18 and older) but asked the income and marital status questions. This is not currently included in the AHTUS, but may be added in the future.

2003 ATUS

The BLS began collecting time diaries from one person per household in a sub-sample of households that completed the eighth and final wave of the CPS. The survey collects diaries throughout the year. This sub-sample over-samples households with young children and only included people aged 15 and older. All diaries are collected over the telephone (with people in households without a phone sent a voucher to call and complete the diary from a pay phone) about the previous day’s activities. Half of diaries were collected on weekdays and the other half on weekend days. The large sample size permits breakdown of time by more detailed population groups than is possible in the smaller and older datasets. While the ATUS is a continuous and on-going study, only the 2003 data are included at this time.

Harmonized Activity Categories in the AHTUS

   1965–66 1975–76 1985 1992–94 2003
Harmonized activity categories in the AHTUS
−8 Item missing × × × × ×
1 General or other personal care × × × × ×
2 Imputed personal or household care × × × × ×
3 Sleep × × × × ×
4 Imputed sleep × × × × ×
5 Naps and rest × × × NO ×
6 Wash, dress, personal care × × × × ×
7 Personal medical care × × × × ×
8 Meals at work × × × NO ×
9 Other meals & snacks × × × × ×
10 Main paid work (not at home) × × × × ×
11 Paid work at home × × × × ×
12 Second job, other paid work × × × × ×
13 Work breaks × × × × ×
14 Other time at workplace × × × NO ×
15 Time looking for work NO × × × ×
16 Regular schooling, education × × × × ×
17 Homework × × × × ×
18 Short course or training × × × × ×
19 Occasional or other education/training × × × × ×
20 Food preparation, cooking × × × × ×
21 Set table, wash/put away dishes × × × × ×
22 Cleaning × × × × ×
23 Laundry, ironing, clothing repair × × × × ×
24 Home repairs, maintain vehicle × × × × ×
25 Other domestic work × × × × ×
26 Purchase routine goods × × × × ×
27 Purchase consumer durables × × × × ×
28 Purchase personal services × × × × ×
29 Purchase medical services × × × × ×
30 Purchase repair, laundry services × × × × ×
31 Financial/government services × × × × ×
32 Purchase other services × × × × ×
33 Care of infants × × × × ×
34 General care of older children × × × × ×
35 Medical care of children × × × × ×
36 Play with children × × × × ×
37 Supervise child or help with × × × × ×
38 Homework × × × × ×
39 Read to, talk with child × × × × ×
40 Adult care × × × × ×
41 General voluntary acts × × × × ×
42 Political and civic activity × × × × ×
43 Union and professional activities NO × × × NO
44 Volunteer child/family organization NO × × × NO
45 Volunteer fraternal organization NO × × × NO
46 Other formal volunteering × × × × NO
48 Acts for religious organization × × × × NO
49 Worship and religious acts × × × × ×
50 General out-of-home leisure × × × NO ×
51 Attend sporting event × × × × ×
52 Go to cinema × × × × ×
53 Theater, concert, opera × × × × ×
54 Museums, exhibitions × × × × ×
55 Attend other public event × × × × NO
56 Restaurant, cafe bar × × × × ×
57 Parties or receptions × × × × ×
58 Imputed time away from home × × × × ×
60 Sports & exercise × × × × ×
62 Walking × × × × ×
63 Cycling NO × × × ×
64 Outdoor recreation NO × × × ×
65 Physical activity, sports with child × × × × ×
66 Hunting, fishing, boating, hiking × × × NO ×
67 Gardening × × × × ×
68 Pet care, walk dogs × × × × ×
70 General indoor leisure × × × × ×
71 Imputed in-home social × × × × ×
72 Receive or visit friends × × × × ×
73 Other in-home social, games × × × × ×
74 Play musical instrument, sing, act × × × × NO
75 Artistic activity × × × × ×
76 Crafts × × × × ×
77 Hobbies × × × × ×
78 Relax, think, do nothing × × × × ×
81 Read books × × × × ×
82 Read periodicals × × × × NO
83 Read newspapers × × × × NO
84 Listen to music (CD etc.) × × × × ×
85 Listen to radio × × × × ×
86 Watch television, video × × × × ×
87 Writing by hand × × × × ×
88 Conversation, phone, texting × × × × ×
89 Use computer NO NO × × ×
90 Imputed travel × × × × ×
91 Personal or adult care travel × × × × ×
92 Travel as part of paid work NO NO NO × ×
93 Travel to/from work + other work travel × × × × ×
94 Travel related to education × × × × ×
95 Travel related to consumption × × × × ×
96 Travel related to child care × × × × ×
97 Travel for volunteering or worship × × × × ×
98 Other travel × × × × ×
Location variables and category codes in the AHTUS
INOUT – outside, inside or in vehicle  
−8 Location unknown × × × × ×
1 Outside × × × × ×
2 Inside × × × × ×
3 In a vehicle × × × × ×
ELOC – location, includes implied from activity codes as well as diary columns  
−8 Location unknown × × × no ×
1 Own home × × × × ×
2 Other home × × × × ×
3 Workplace × × × × ×
4 School × × × × ×
5 Services or shops × × × × ×
6 Restaurant, café, bar × × × × ×
7 Place of worship × × × × ×
8 Traveling × × × × ×
9 Other × × × × ×
MTRAV – mode of travel  
−8 Not answered Not present Not present × × No
−7 Not traveling    × × ×
1 Car, truck, motorcycle    × × ×
2 Public, mass transport    × × ×
3 Walk (including child carried)    × × ×
4 Cycle    Limited × ×
5 Other or unspecified mode    × × ×

Sample Distribution by Selected Classificatory Characteristic AHTUS

Weighted distribution (frequency and column %) of age by survey

   1960s 1970s 1980s 1990s 2003
18–24 Count 337 850 403 856 2205
% 16.95 19.45 15.79 12.39 12.49
25–34 Count 418 936 605 1472 3288
% 21.03 21.41 23.7 21.3 18.63
35–44 Count 470 579 475 1514 3685
% 23.64 13.25 18.61 21.91 20.88
45–54 Count 437 659 339 1135 3409
% 21.98 15.08 13.28 16.42 19.32
55–64 Count 298 589 331 767 2331
% 14.99 13.48 12.97 11.10 13.21
65plus Count 28 758 400 1167 2731
% 1.41 17.34 15.67 16.89 15.47
All Count 1988 4371 2553 6911 17,649
% 100 100 100 100 100

Weighted distribution (frequency and column %) of sex by survey

   1960s 1970s 1980s 1990s 2003  
Men Count 942 1991 1179 3074 8407 15,593
% 47.38 45.55 46.16 44.47 47.63 46.58
Women Count 1046 2380 1375 3839 9242 17,882
% 52.62 54.45 53.84 55.53 52.37 53.42
All Count 1988 4371 2554 6913 17,649 33,475
  100 100 100 100 100 100

Weighted distribution (frequency and column %) of education level by survey

   1960s 1970s 1980s 1990s 2003
0–8th grade Count 257 618 163 200 726
% 13.01 14.21 6.44 2.91 4.11
9–11th grade Count 403 629 241 513 1464
% 20.39 14.47 9.53 7.46 8.29
High school graduate Count 775 1677 1094 2371 5101
% 39.22 38.57 43.24 34.5 28.9
Some college Count 289 687 455 1731 3549
% 14.63 15.80 17.98 25.19 20.11
College graduate Count 206 391 393 1182 4921
% 10.43 8.99 15.53 17.2 27.88
Post college Count 46 346 184 876 1889
% 2.33 7.96 7.27 12.75 10.7
All Count 1976 4348 2530 6873 17,650
% 100 100 100 100 100

Weighted distribution (frequency and column %) of economic activity by survey

   1960s 1970s 1980s 1990s 2003
Employed full-time Count 1368 2370 1349 3887 9822
% 69.41 54.91 53.94 56.51 55.65
Employed part-time Count 54 269 234 738 2335
% 2.74 6.23 9.36 10.73 13.23
Not employed Count 549 1677 918 2253 5492
% 27.85 38.86 36.71 32.76 31.12
Count 1971 4316 2501 6878 17,649
% 100 100 100 100 100

Weighted distribution (frequency and column %) of marital status by survey

   1960s 1970s 1980s 2003
Married Count 1594 2796 1636 10,181
% 80.18 64.07 64.43 57.68
Separated, divorced Count 109 418 200 2261
% 5.48 9.58 7.88 12.81
Widowed Count 83 483 183 1269
% 4.18 11.07 7.21 7.19
Never married Count 202 667 520 3939
% 10.16 15.28 20.48 22.32
All Count 1988 4364 2539 17,650

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Fisher, K., Egerton, M., Gershuny, J.I. et al. Gender Convergence in the American Heritage Time use Study (AHTUS). Soc Indic Res 82, 1–33 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11205-006-9017-y

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Key words

  • gender time
  • social change
  • national time diaries
  • work time