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Using Time Use Data

A History of Time Use Surveys and Uses of Time Use Data

Introduction

New Zealand's first time use survey was in the field for the year July 1998 to July 1999. The Ministry of Women's Affairs sponsored the survey, and Statistics New Zealand collected and analysed the data. A key interest of the Ministry was to obtain detailed information on unpaid work.

This publication examines the research and policy-based applications of time use data in those countries where it is available, and discusses the results. It suggests areas where time use information will contribute to better policy development, implementation and evaluation across a wide range of policy portfolios, and will also enrich our understanding of New Zealand society. Its objective is to help build an information resource about how the New Zealand time use data can be used to best effect.

Information on how people use their time is collected by time use or time budget surveys. People are either asked to keep a diary accounting for everything they do during a specified day or days, or they are asked to recall their activities during the previous day. The information is recorded in specified time intervals, every five or 15 minutes for example, so that the amount of time spent on a given activity can be analysed. Survey results show how many hours people in a given population or population sub-group spend on different kinds of activity, such as work, leisure, sleep, personal care and so on.

Time use data has a multitude of uses, and new applications are constantly emerging. Giles Provonost, discussing time use data for Quebec, comments that few if any countries which undertake time use surveys do not decide to update them regularly (Provonost, 1988: 41). The richness and diversity of the information produced and the range of analyses that are possible mean that time use surveys become an expected part of the regular statistical survey programme.

The value of time use information lies in the fact that time is the ultimate resource and, unlike other resources, time is shared equally by everyone. There are 24 hours in everyone's day, so comparative analysis of time use begins with the same starting point for everyone. Time can be converted into money, goods and services through work. Time is also required for the consumption of goods and services. Analysis of time use therefore offers an overview of both production and consumption. Looked at another way, time may be spent in the labour market where its value is measured in monetary terms, but it is also the resource which enables voluntary work in the community and domestic work to be undertaken, activities which produce a wide range of essential services for which few measures currently exist. In addition, time is the basic resource for leisure activities. The amount of free time available for rest and recreation is an important aspect of personal well-being, and is one measure of the standard of living of a given population.

Although each of these areas may be studied through conventional research methods, only a time use survey provides an integrated picture of how the various paid, voluntary, domestic and leisure activities are integrated in the lives of different sections of the population. This integrated picture not only leads to a better understanding of social life, but also gives a more complete overview of a national economy as it enables the measurement of goods and services produced outside the labour market which are not captured by conventional measures of production.

Chapter 1 of this publication gives a brief history of time use surveys and reviews economic arguments for including domestic and voluntary work in measures of economic production. Chapter 2 reviews some of the earlier uses of time use data. Chapter 3 outlines policy applications that have become important in the 1990s with moves to include unpaid production in economic measures such as the System of National Accounts and an international focus on improving the status of women. Chapter 4 gives an account of the contribution of time use data to research in a number of specific areas and Chapter 5 explores some potential uses of time use data in New Zealand. An appendix provides a comparative discussion of time use survey methodologies including a summary of the methodology chosen for the 1998/99 New Zealand Time Use Survey.

It will be seen that the uses made of the data not only differ according to the policy concerns of governments and the particular interests of academic commentators but they also vary in response to the information requirements of international organisations. Time use data records differences in the life styles and economies of industrial, socialist and developing countries, and the way it is used reflects differences between social concerns of the past and the present. The versatility of the applications described in this publication illustrates the flexibility of the data produced by time use surveys, and demonstrates how new uses emerge as times and information requirements change. 

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Published 10 March 1999
Catalogue 04.021.0098
ISBN 0-478-20731-X

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