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July 2009, Vol. 132, No. 7
Measuring time spent in unpaid household work: results from the American Time Use Survey
Individuals often perform services for themselves or their households rather than purchasing those services. For example, they fix leaky faucets rather than hiring plumbers, grocery shop instead of using a grocery delivery service, and prepare meals rather than eating at restaurants. Such unpaid services that are produced for immediate consumption by one’s own household, and for which market substitutes exist, are referred to as unpaid household work. Unlike work that is done for pay, about which there are a number of timely statistical measures—persons employed, hours worked, earnings generated, and others—the resources involved in doing unpaid household work are less frequently quantified.
Time-use data can be used to learn more about the resources involved in doing unpaid work because the data contain information about the full range of productive activities individuals do, and not merely those for which they receive pay. The focus of this article is on the time resources involved in doing unpaid household work. Some findings from the 2003–07 American Time Use Survey (ATUS) show how much time individuals spent doing unpaid household work, the types of unpaid household work they did, and characteristics of persons who most frequently did this work. Data about how much time individuals spend doing unpaid household work provide insight about the labor-time resources involved in these activities. Time-use data also are an important element in determining a monetary value for unpaid household work, although doing so is not within the scope of this article.1
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1 Determining a value for unpaid household work is a complex undertaking, one that requires a method for valuing that time as well as information about the time involved in these activities. For more information about this subject, see: Katharine G. Abraham and Christopher Mackie, eds., Beyond the Market: Designing Nonmarket Accounts for the United States (Washington, D.C., The National Academies Press, 2005).
Related BLS programs
American Time Use Survey
How high school students use time: a visual essay.—Nov. 2008.
Time use of working parents: a visual essay.—Jun. 2008.
How do older Americans spend their time?—May 2007.
What can time-use data tell us about hours of work?—Dec. 2004.
Measuring time use in households with more than one person.—Feb. 2002.
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