New Frontiers for Time Use Research (NFTUR)

Lead Research Organisation: University College London
Department Name: Social Science


Everything we do, takes time. So time spent in the various activities of daily life, provides a comprehensive and exhaustive basis for summarising the activities of a society. Yet people in general do not know how much time they devote to their daily activities (readers consider, for example, how many hours spent in their job, or doing housework, or asleep, last week.) For this reason, we have to adopt a special research technique. Rather than asking a set of direct questions "how much time did you spend in this or that activity", we instead ask people to list, in sequence, all the things they have done, with, as precisely as they are able to recall, the start and end times of each successive activity, from 4am yesterday to 4am today.

The Centre for Time Use Research (CTUR) has experimented by comparing "day-diaries" of this sort with worn camera records (The CAPTURE24 project described in the Case for Support) and has demonstrated that, though uncertainty about precise start times introduces a random error, the diary technique produces overall estimates of time devoted to the various broad classes of activity (paid work, household chores, childcare, travel, media use, social and solitary leisure, sleep) which are virtually identical to the total durations estimated from the camera records.

The CTUR is the world-leading specialist in collecting and analysing nationally representative samples of time diaries, from both adults and children. It produces highly original sociological, economic, and other research (for example in the fields of public health, transport, environmental sustainability) with the results of its time use analysis. It is building up a unique, historical database, with UK surveys from every decade since the 1950s, and from 25 other countries from across the developed world (the Multinational Time Use Study-MTUS) comprising a total of more than a million-and-a-quarter diary-days so far

Time diary surveys are important for:
1 The measurement of economic activity in the broadest sense. National statistical offices use time diary studies for both detailed evaluations of labour inputs to National Accounts, and also for National Accounts "Extensions" covering subsistence production and unpaid work in private households. The diary studies reveal gender- and household-type-related differences in work time use, and changes in these through the life-course.
2 Processes of formation of "embodied capital". How people spend their time has consequences for the accumulation of skills, in the workplace, in work at home, and in leisure pursuits. People engaging in activities, learn skills that improve their ability to participate in those activities, whether in work (where effective participation increases efficiency, leading to higher pay or promotion in the context of employment, more free time in an unpaid work context)-or to more enjoyment (as the individual becomes a more skilled consumer) in a leisure context. Differences in the relative durations in these activities-eg related to paid vs unpaid work-lead to systematic inequality, particularly to gender wage gaps.
3 Public health issues. The distribution of activity (physical exercise, sedentary behaviour, sleep) across populations is now seen as quite as important as nutrition in the determination of populations' health status. Time-use diaries provide better evidence for research in this area than questionnaire-based estimates of activity patterns.
4 Affect and wellbeing. An appropriate work-life balance is now emerging as a key determinant of wellbeing. So life-satisfaction and population happiness studies now take time-use methods as a key resource for improvement of the measurement of national well-being.

This proposal intends to improve and extend the MTUS datasets required for these four fields, as well as undertaking experiments with new data collection methods, and investigating innovative applications of time-diary datasets,

Planned Impact

CTUR researchers will continue to publish in high-end peer-reviewed journals. We have been in the forefront of introducing time use diary data into new areas of research (public health, father care, transport research and energy use), and in finding new ways to deploy time use research where other sorts of evidence have limited applicability. For example, accurate measures of time spent in sleep, and in vigorous, moderate, or sedentary activities, or using information technology, will now influence debates on how these activities impact on our health and wellbeing. Our research will also influence understanding of the affective dimensions of daily life, providing new insights into the subjective experiences of time at work, in leisure and with family, and by contributing to alternative national accounting concepts that incorporate new measures of wellbeing.

Academic beneficiaries: capacity impact
CTUR will continue to expand and develop the time use resources that are available for other researchers and analysts to use via an extensive resource programme. Our flagship Multinational Time Use Survey is the most detailed and extensive micro-level cross-nationally harmonised time use database available in the world, with 89 existing surveys covering more than 1.2m days of data over the period 1961-2015. This major time use resource currently has 1,555 registered users from across the world, 304 registered in the last year. To date the MTUS has specialised in data from economically developed countries but we will be expanding to include survey materials from South Asia, the Pacific Rim, Africa and South America. We will expand and develop this database, as well as adding new sources of time use data, including the development of new internet based and wearable technologies for data collection. We will also provide support and training for data users through a programme of workshops and academic visitorships.

Non-academic beneficiaries: the ONS
The principal non-academic beneficiary, and partner, for our proposed resource and research programme is the Office for National Statistics (ONS). The ONS is responsible for i) collecting data on the UK population; and ii) the production of National Statistics - and will provide a critical conduit for CTUR to reach a wider non-academic audience. One of the primary achievements of our current grant has been to motivate the ONS to reengage with time use diary data, resulting in a commitment to the continued collection and analysis of such data. CTUR is ideally placed to support the ONS into the future as it seeks to build capacity in this area. On the one hand, our resource program on new data collection methods, including the use of internet-based diaries, will provide new knowledge in developing national time use surveys. On the research side, we have an agreement in place to work with colleagues in the ONS across a range of business areas, including the development of National Accounts, quality of life and labour market statistics.

Other non-academic beneficiaries
Our research program covers a wide range of topics of interest to other government and non-government bodies working, for example, in areas relating to public health, transport research, the impact of new device technologies, and energy use. Building on our experience and success in developing a working partnership with the ONS, we aim to bolster the impact of our data and research by attracting the interest of key stakeholders in relevant areas. We will initiate this process though a programme of dissemination and briefing reports organised both in-house and with the assistance of UCL's well-developed capacity for research dissemination. Impact is not simply about the dissemination of research findings. But making stakeholders aware of time use research, is a crucial first step in setting them thinking about its potential applications in tackling social problems.


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Description Evidence has emerged of an entirely unexpected constancy in the total of all work time (paid plus unpaid)--over time in the UK, but also in similarly developed countries in Europe, N. America and Australia. We have also discovered that the standard attributions of metabolic activity to diary activities used by public health researchers are inaccurate, And we are developing proposals to improve them.

We have published a state-of-the-art academic summary of our time-use findings in Annu. Rev.
Exploitation Route Need more investment in new instrumented diary studies.
A very large quantity of time use data has been archived for secondary analysis with an exceptionally wide range of applications in ecomomics. sociology, public health and environmental sustainabuiloty
Sectors Creative Economy





Description Used by collaborators in the UK Office of National Statistics to develop timeuse data collection methods.
First Year Of Impact 2021
Sector Environment,Healthcare,Government, Democracy and Justice,Other
Impact Types Policy & public services

Title 6 Wave UK Time use Study ("CaDDI: Click and Drag Diary Instrument" (covering COVID period 2016-2021 
Description Six wave of time use diary data, covering UK in 2016, then first lockdown and subsequent stages, used for assessing extent of infection risky vs risk-averse activity. Various publications including Proceedings of the US National Academy of Sciences 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2022 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact dayasey to used in epidemiological models of infection related to daily activity patterns 
Title Centre for Time Use Research UK Time Use Survey 6-Wave Sequence across the COVID-19 Pandemic, 2016-2021 
Description In 2016 the Centre for Time Use Research developed an online Click and Drag Diary Instrument (CaDDI), collecting population-representative (quota sample) time use diary data from Dynata's large international market research panel across 9 countries. We fielded the same instrument using the UK panel across the COVID-19 pandemic: in May-June 2020 during the first lockdown; in late August 2020 following the relaxation of social restrictions; in November 2020 during the second lockdown; in January 2021 during the third lockdown; and in August/September 2021 after the lifting of restrictions. Each survey wave collected between 1-3 time use diaries per respondent, recording activities, location, co-presence, device use, and enjoyment across continuous 10-minute episodes throughout the diary day. The accompanying individual screening questionnaire included information on the standard socio-demographic variables, and a diary day questionnaire containing additional health and diary day related questions was added during wave 2. Overall, 6896 diaries were collected across the 6 waves, allowing analysis of behavioural change between a baseline (in 2016), three national lockdowns, and two intervening periods of the relaxation of social restrictions. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2021 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact In 2016 CTUR developed an online time use diary; the Click and Drag Diary Instrument (CaDDI), collecting population-representative (quota sample) diary information from Dynata's large international market research panel across 9 countries. We fielded the same instrument using the UK panel during the COVID-19 pandemic: in May-June 2020 during the first lockdown; in late August 2020 following the relaxation of social restrictions; in November 2020 during the second lockdown; in January 2021 during the third lockdown; and in August/September 2021 after the lifting of restrictions. The data allows comparison of detailed accounts of population behaviour (activities, location and co-presence) across 3 lockdowns and 2 periods of the relaxation of restrictions.