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Notes on time use
August 1999, Vol. 122, No. 8
Robert A. Pollak
Time-use data can be used to estimate both structural relationships, such as household technology, and behavioral relationships, such as the determinants of the allocation of time among activities.1 The implications of economics for collecting time-use data for estimation depend critically on the underlying theory. For economists, the starting point for theory is Gary S. Becker’s "household production" model, in which households are "assumed to combine time and market goods to produce more basic commodities that directly enter their utility functions."2 Elaborating on this model, Robert T. Michael and Becker cite applications to such commodities as "‘good health,’ children, marriage, or ‘intercity visits’"3 and urge its application to "new variables . . . more global in nature than the goods and resources traditionally considered."4 Examples of these more global variables include "children, prestige and esteem, health, altruism, envy, and pleasures of the senses."5
The household production model is an application of the rational actor model: Bentham updated by Becker. Becker’s assumption that households "combine time and market goods to produce more basic commodities that directly enter their utility functions" appears to place restrictions on the constraints households face. But without specific assumptions about household technology, there are no restrictions: the conventional economic model in which market goods enter the utility function directly is a special case of the household production model in which the number of commodities is equal to the number of market goods and each market good corresponds to ("produces") a single commodity. The power of the household production model to place restrictions on household behavior derives from specific assumptions about the technology households use to transform goods and time into commodities and about the relationship between the number of goods and the number of commodities—Becker insists that commodities "are much smaller in number than the goods consumed" and cites, with apparent approval, Bentham’s list of 15 fundamental sources of "pleasure and pain."6
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1 Time-use data also are required to construct national product accounts that reflect nonmarket as well as market activity; that, however, is not the subject of this article.
2 Gary S. Becker, "A Theory of the Allocation of Time," Economic Journal, September 1965, pp. 493–517; reprinted in Gary S. Becker, The Economic Approach to Human Behavior (Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1976), see especially p. 91.
3 Robert T. Michael and Gary S. Becker, "On the New Theory of Consumer Behavior," Swedish Journal of Economics, December 1973, pp. 378–96; reprinted in Becker, Economic Approach.
4 Becker, Economic Approach, p. 147.
5 Gary S. Becker, A Treatise on the Family (Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press, 1981 (enlarged ed., 1991)), p. 8.
6 Ibid., p. 24.
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