1504.0 - Methodological News, Jun 2002  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 28/06/2002   
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A preliminary analysis of changes in total hours spent on unpaid work by Australians between 1992 and 1997 was undertaken using a simple decomposition technique. The relative contribution of demographic changes and changes in patterns of time allocation between various activities were examined. The empirical findings could shed light in addressing several issues associated with the compilation of unpaid work statistics. For example, is it appropriate to extrapolate estimates of total unpaid work using population information and historical patterns of individuals' time allocation to unpaid work? If such estimates were obtained, how large are the possible biases?

The ABS has been producing statistics on unpaid work since the late 1980s and early 1990s. These estimates of unpaid work are based on Time–Use Surveys (TUS) conducted by the ABS in 1987, 1992 and 1997. As these survey based estimates are infrequent and the user community is interested in more frequent information, the ABS is interested in extrapolating estimates of unpaid work for non-survey years. This study provides some information to help evaluate the possibility of achieving this goal.

In contrast to earlier analyses, the paper examines changes in total hours spent on unpaid household work between 1992 and 1997 at a disaggregated level, and quantifies the contribution of demographic changes (a demographic effect) and changes in patterns of time allocation (a behavioural effect). Unpaid work consists of household work, and volunteer and community work.

Results reveal that demographic changes, more than changes in patterns of time allocation, are the main factors behind changes in total hours spent on unpaid work between 1992 and 1997. There were some changes in the average amount of time spent on unpaid work for males and females. However, these changes did not dramatically alter typical male and female activities.

A summary of the decomposition analysis of changes in total time spent on unpaid work for Australia between 1992 and 1997 showed three salient features: (1) the average time in unpaid work has generally decreased; (2) the number of people in major demographic categories has increased; and (3) the demographic factor has 'outplayed' the behavioural factor and the net effect on changes in unpaid work is positive.

Further, the demographic effect was decomposed into two factors: general population growth and demographic compositions. Results show that the influence of general population growth is positive and dominant for most groups, and a shift from not–employment groups to employed groups is significant, and this may reflect the Australian business cycles. However, this aggregate level decomposition analysis is unable to reveal the influence of age on demographic structure and hence on the changes in unpaid work. A future more detailed analysis could address this issue.

In general, the following conclusions were drawn from this preliminary study:

  • Change in the population is the major component of change in (total) unpaid household work between 1992 and 1997.
  • There were some variations in changes in the average amount of time spent on unpaid work across demographic categories. However, in general average hours in unpaid work fell between 1992 and 1997.
  • There was also a demographic composition effect present with a general decline in not–employed relative to employed groups.
  • The results of a preliminary simulation exercise revealed that for some groups only incorporating change in population size could produce reasonable estimates of total unpaid hours but for other groups such an assumption could lead to significant (upward) biases.

For more information, please contact Annette Jose on (02) 6252 7474.

Email: marianita.jose@abs.gov.au