Time Diary Data and Research

Presenter(s): Stella Chatzitheochari

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Widely known as time-use research, the study of how people spend their time spans several social science disciplines, including sociology, public health, economics, and environmental science. The aim of this resource is to introduce the time-use diary method, which is currently recognised as the gold standard for the collection of time-use data on large populations. Rather than collecting information on a narrow set of pre-determined activities like conventional social surveys, time diary surveys allow respondents to describe their full 24-hour day, providing a sequential and comprehensive record of all activities a respondent engages in, alongside valuable contextual information. Time diary estimates have been shown to be more accurate and reliable than social survey time-use estimates and are increasingly used to answer a wide range of research questions.

The Time-Use Diary Method

Video 1: Introduction - features and advantages of time use diary method.

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What sort of questions can be answered using time-use diary data?

The previous video showed us the rich information collected by the time diary instrument. You might now be wondering how such data can be used. Contextual time diary data are of great interest to social scientists. For example, location data can used to answer questions surrounding telework, or to map people’s indoor and outdoor time for public health purposes. Secondary activity data have also been pivotal for highlighting overlooked aspects of women’s temporal disadvantage: Time-use researchers have constructed move valid estimates of housework and childcare as well as indicators of quality of free time using secondary activity diary data, acknowledging the role of multitasking and the unique nature of childcare. In so doing, researchers have demonstrated the power of time diaries in providing gender-sensitive and theoretically-informed indicators of domestic labour and housework. 

Video 2: a showcase of research on the impact of mobile devices on family time, using a time-use diary. The video covers the shortcomings of survey questions that focus on mobile device use, as well as the construction of multidimensional measures of family time that were only made possible with time diary data.

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Time Diary Survey Resources

While the use of survey questions for the measurement of time allocation can be traced back to 1909, the first time diary surveys were conducted in the Soviet Union and the United States in the inter-war period. However, the great upsurge of the time-use diary method only began in the 1960s with the Multinational Time-Budget Research Project that collected information on the time allocation of working populations in 12 countries of North America and Western Europe. Following this study, a large number of statistical agencies began funding national time diary surveys on a regular basis, resulting in an impressive pool of time diary data from developed and developing countries alike. Availability of time diary data is likely to increase in the years to come given the development of smartphones apps for data collection. 

The table below describes some key studies for those of you interested in secondary analysis of time diary surveys. 



Key Details 

Multinational Time Use Study (MTUS)

Harmonised time diary data from over 100 randomly sampled studies; covers a period of over 55 years and 30 countries; ideal for analysis of time-use changes over time and cross-national comparisons. 



Harmonized European Time Use Surveys (HETUS)

National time diary surveys conducted in various European countries approximately every 10 years; standardized survey designs and activity classifications applied as far as possible to facilitate cross-national comparisons. 

https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/web/time-use-surveys (contains links to all national time diary surveys currently available)

UK Time Use Survey 2014-2015

Most recent nationally-representative time-use diary survey available in the UK; household survey collecting diaries from individuals aged 8 and over. 


Users interested in comparisons over time can browse UKDS website to access UK studies from previous decades. 

UK Millennium Cohort Study (MCS), Wave 6 time-use record

Leading UK cohort study following individuals born between 2000-2002; Participants completed time diary records at age 14; the survey offers a wide range of variables and is ideal for longitudinal analyses. 



Researchers especially interested in time diary records available in cohort studies may also want to consider the Panel Study of Income DynamicsGrowing up in Ireland, and Growing up In Australia: the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children. Those interested in US data may want to explore the American Heritage Time Use Study, which provides harmonized data from the 1930s to 2012.

Secondary Analysis of Time-Diary Surveys

Video 3:  issues and complexity in time diary surveys, and outcome variables.

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Download worksheet. 



  1. For a concise history of time-use data, see:
     Bauman, A., Bittman, M., & Gershuny, J. (2019). A Short History of Time Use Research; Implications for Public Health. BMC Public Health, 19, 607.
  2. For a discussion on alternative measures of time-use, see:
     Juster, F. T., Ono, H., & Stafford, F. P. (2003). An Αssessment of Αlternative Μeasures of Τime Use. Sociological Methodology, 33, 19–54.
  3. A landmark study that documented women’s temporal disadvantage analyzing time-use diaries is:
     Bittman, M. & Wajcman, J. (2000) The Rush Hour: The Character of Leisure Time and Gender Equity, Social Forces, 79(1), 165–189.

About the author

Stella Chatzitheochari is Reader in Sociology at the Department of Sociology of the University of Warwick. Stella completed her doctorate at the University of Surrey, having conducted secondary analysis of UK time-use diary surveys to highlight new dimensions of time poverty.  As John Adams Career Development Fellow at the Centre for Longitudinal Studies (2012-2014), she was involved in the scientific design of the Millennium Cohort Study Wave 6 time-use record, which involved 3 different modes of diary data collection. Stella continues to work on time-use research, currently focusing on questions surrounding couple time as well as work schedules. 

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