Handbook of Social Indicators and Quality of Life Research

pp 159-179


Time Use as a Social Indicator

  • John P. RobinsonAffiliated withDepartment of Sociology, University of Maryland Email author 
  • , Steven MartinAffiliated withDepartment of Sociology, University of Maryland

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Reflecting time’s importance in everyday living and decision-making, government and academic researchers from most Western countries are collecting full 24-h time-diary data to monitor and understand how daily life differs across demographic groups, across decades, and across countries. Despite its far greater costs than simple respondent time estimates, it is argued that the diary provides a more comprehensive and accurate basis for generating national accounts of time spent working, doing housework, caring for children, caring for oneself, traveling, TV viewing, and on all the other activities that occur in free time. Diaries can also provide data on multitasking, interacting with others, and the location and timing of daily activities. For that reason, extensive diary data are now being collected on an ongoing basis by the American Time-Use Survey (ATUS) and by more than 25 other counties via the Multinational Time-Use Survey (MTUS). These diary data are being standardized and archived at the University of Oxford. In order to provide greater insight into the psychological meaning of these activities for national accounts, supplemental data are also being collected on the subjective properties of diary activities, such as activity enjoyment, tempo, purpose, and output. Several aspects, results, and conclusions from previous research are reviewed, in the context of subjective time aspects needed to provide insight into the larger meaning of daily activity.