Where does the time go?

Have you ever had one of those days (or weeks or months or years) where you have the sudden and mystifying realization that time has slipped away from you?

Hour Glass

Image by Omer Unlu. CC license here.

Where does all of our time go anyway?  Without taking a turn into the deeply philosophical, I wanted to bring to your attention the fact that the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, of all entities, can provide some insight into this question.

That’s right, the BLS has been collecting data for over a decade as part of its ‘American Time Use Survey‘. As the name implies, this data is limited to the ways persons living within the United States use their time.  They explain in the survey’s overview that it “provides nationally representative estimates of how, where, and with whom Americans spend their time, and is the only federal survey providing data on the full range of nonmarket activities, from childcare to volunteering.”

Via the survey’s website you can access tables, charts, press releases, and even the data files for the survey itself categorized in a number of ways.  You can view a snapshot of some of the data represented by charts for the following categories:

So……what can you do with this information?

The information provided by the survey could be used by researchers in a number of ways.

Perhaps you are researching stress and need to know the average amount of time a woman in her early 30s sleeps per night.

Or you work at a non-profit and are in the early stages of recruiting new volunteers.  Wouldn’t it be helpful to know who typically volunteers, on what days, and for how long before you launch a new recruitment campaign?

Maybe you’re investigating the media usage habits of teenagers and want to get a sense of how many hours per day, on average, they spend watching T.V. or using the computer.

Data, data, data

Beyond those examples, some savvy researchers may want to access the survey’s data files to make their own time-use estimates.

While this sounds like a daunting task, the BLS does provide extensive documentation on how to use their microdata files (although they recommend it is easiest to use their data with statistical analysis software). Check out their ‘how to use ATUS microdata‘ webpage for all of the details.

You can also view their FAQs page which contains great information not only about using their data, but also about the collection process, measurements, and more.

What about other countries?

While it’s great to have access to all of this data about time use in the United States, what if you are interested in other countries or want to make some comparisons?

As luck should have it, many other countries collect time use data as well.  For example, the United Nations Statistics division provides a website with access to information related to time allocation and time use surveys in a number of countries.  While some records provide access to the results of the survey, others only provide an overview of the survey, who is collecting the data, and some of other methodological details. Either way, this is great starting point when considering time use internationally.

You can also see a select list of other countries’ Time Use Surveys here.

We hope this will serve as another great tool to have on hand during your research.

As always, happy searching!

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