Time Use Survey

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    Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS)


    TMU97 was the second national survey which collected information about how people use their time; and included data about with and for whom (for whom collected for the first time in 1997) they undertook activities. Also for the first time, TMU97 collected data on the use of technology, outsourcing of domestic tasks and time stress. ABS conducted a pilot survey of time-use in Sydney in 1987 and the fist national survey in 1992.


    TMU97 was designed to:

    1. Measure the daily activity patterns of people in order to establish a basic Australian time-use profile; and establish profiles of sub-groups that can be compared with the national benchmark, based on age and other characteristics.
    2. Measure the productive activities of households in order to study the differences in patterns of paid work and unpaid household and community work between sub-groups and provide information on unpaid household work appropriate for use in for the satellite National Accounts and the Income, Consumption and Wealth framework.
    3. Measure the amount of time people spend caring for people with disabilities, frail older people and children. The survey was designed to collect data on community participation (including voluntary work, leisure, fitness and health activities) and travel.



    TMU97 covered residents of private dwellings in urban and rural areas across all States and Territories of Australia. All households within selected dwellings were included in the survey and all persons aged 15 years or older were in scope, with the following exceptions:

    • diplomatic personnel of overseas governments and non-Australian members of their households;
    • non-Australian resident service personnel stationed in Australia and their dependents;
    • overseas visitors whose usual place of residence is outside Australia;
    • all persons in special dwellings;
    • all persons in sparsely settled strata;
    • all persons in aboriginal strata


    Usual residents of selected private dwellings were included in the survey if they were staying at, or had stayed at, the selected dwelling for any part of that quarter's enumeration period. Usual residents who were absent from the dwelling for the whole collection fortnight were excluded. Visitors who usually lived in a private dwelling were included in the survey only if they had not been at their own usual dwelling for any part of the enumeration period.


    Conceptual framework

    Time-use activity classifications have frequently been criticised because of their multiple frames of reference and the multiple concepts included in the classification. Additionally, the uneven treatment of activity areas where some are extremely detailed and others are very broad, is also a cause of concern. The 1997 Australian activity classification was designed to address these problems. Aas (1982) produced a logical analysis of time-use activities and behaviour in which he identified three inseparable dimensions of every time-use activity. These were:

    1. What the activity (or action) is - eg behaviour
    2. Where the activity takes place - eg location
    3. With whom the activity takes place - eg interaction

    Aas (1982) proposed a typology which identified four categories of time:

    1. Necessary time: includes activities which serve basic physiological needs such as sleeping, eating, personal care, health and hygiene.
    2. Contracted time: includes paid work and regular education. Activities within this category have explicit contracts which control the periods of time in which they are performed. These activities, therefore, constrain the distribution of other activities over the rest of the day.
    3. Committed time: describes activities to which a person has committed him/herself because of previous acts or behaviours or community participation such as having children, setting up a household or doing voluntary work. The consequent housework, care of children, shopping or provision of help to others are committed activities. In most cases, services could be bought to provide the same activity (eg an exchange could be made of time for money). The unpaid work activities which are identified in the satellite national accounts are all committed time activities.
    4. Free time: the amount of time left when the previous three types of time have been taken out of a person's day. Many free time activities are considered as leisure, but not all. Leisure time is subjective and depends on a particular person's point of view. In fact, many activities included in committed time can be considered to be leisure time activities by some people (eg gardening, furniture making). The only way to obtain more free time is for contracts and commitments to be changed as the total time available in a day is constant.

    All activities could be fitted within these four types of time and the ordering above describes the priority with which the time in a day could be allocated. This typology of time was used to provide the conceptual basis for the detailed activity classification used in TMU97.

    Main outputs

    Data are available at the household, person ('All persons' and 'Participants') and activity ('Main activities' or 'All activities') levels. Outputs include a range of population and time-use characteristics.

    1. Household level

    Items include household composition, child care arrangements, outsourcing of domestic services and presence of household goods (eg videos, TVs).

    2. Person level

    a. Average time spent by All Persons:

    The time reported by each respondent taking part in a particular activity on a particular day is multiplied by the number of people that the respondent is representing on that day, added to a total, divided by the total population in scope and expressed as minutes per day for all persons.

    b. Average time spent by Participants:

    The time spent on an activity on a particular day by those who reported it is multiplied by the number of people those respondents represented on that day, added to a total, divided by that part of the total population represented by those who engaged in the activity and presented as average minutes per day for participants.

    3. Activity level

    a. Average time spent on Main Activities:

    Only time recorded for activities reported in the first diary column entitled: What was your main activity?

    b. Average time spent on All Activities:

    People frequently do more than one activity at the same time and provision was made in the diary for simultaneous activities to be recorded. Time spent on all activities is tabulated to produce these estimates.

    4. Population characteristics - interview items

    Items include age, sex, marital status, birthplace, language (ethnicity), education, employment, income, assistance received by aged persons, disability, carers.

    5. Time-use characteristics - diary items

    Items include day, quarter, perceptions of time poverty/excess, character of the day (whether normal or not), time, activities (primary/secondary, duration, distribution through time, distribution across population), for whom, location, mode of transport, type of technology or communication used, social context.


    Standard ABS classifications were used (eg Australian Standard Classification of Occupations - ASCO, Australian and New Zealand standard Industry Classification - ANZSIC, Australian Standard Geographic Classification, Australian Standard Classification of Countries for Social Statistics- ASCCSS, Australian Standard Classification of Languages - ASCL). Other classifications (eg activity classification, for whom, social context) were used to meet the specific requirements of time-use data. The Activity Classification was redeveloped to reflect current research. However, there was a high degree of comparability with the classification used in the 1992 survey.

    Activity classification

    The categories of activities identified by Szalai (1972) have been recognised as covering most types of behaviour. The typology of time-use adopted by Aas (1982) was similar, and this was reflected in the Activity Classification used in TMU97. The classification has a three-level hierarchy, with the following nine major groups at the one-digit level:

    1. Personal care activities
    2. Employment activities
    3. Education activities
    4. Domestic activities
    5. Child care activities
    6. Purchasing activities
    7. Voluntary work and care activities
    8. Social participation
    9. Recreation and leisure

    Other concepts (summary)

    In TMU97, the concept of 'work' includes both paid and unpaid activities. Work refers to all activities undertaken in order to provide for the food, shelter, clothing and health needs of a person and his/her dependants, for the protection, nurturing and development of children, home care of the elderly or ill, and services to the community. This is a departure from the Labour Force Survey (LFS) concept of work which refers to the earning of personal or family income but ignores unpaid household work.

    New South Wales
    Part of State Metropolitan
    Part of State Extra-Metropolitan

    Comments and/or Other Regions

    The size of the collection limits reliable data for smaller States and Territories, and for substate areas other than broad regions. Broad level data is available for Sydney and Melbourne.

    5 Yearly

    Frequency comments

    Frequency under review as part of Household surveys Review; may be extended to 8 or 12 Yearly


    The ABS conducted a pilot survey of time-use in Sydney in 1987 (see Information Paper, Time Use Survey, Sydney, 1987 (ABS Cat No. 4111.1)). The first national survey was conducted in 1992 (see How Australians Use Their Time, 1992 (ABS Cat No. 4153.0)).

    Pilot testing for TMU97 was conducted in Adelaide in January-February 1996 and in Canberra in June-July 1996.

    1. Pilot test in Adelaide from 19 January to 2nd February 1996

    Four different versions of the diary were tested. Diaries had either a portrait or landscape orientation; half of each type included the 'time stress questions (these ask how often a respondent feels he/she has too little time and too much time on their hands, and the reasons for this). The pilot test showed that better quality activity data was obtained from diaries that contained the time stress questions. High response rates were achieved with the portrait diaries. Therefore the portrait diary, with time stress questions included, was adopted for the dress rehearsal.

    2. Dress rehearsal in Canberra and surrounding areas from 21 June to 5 July 1996

    Pilot test diaries were redesigned to conform with ABS form design standards and time stress questions were re-positioned to just inside the front cover. The sample for the dress rehearsal was split. One half of the sample tested example pages containing a great deal of detail, while the examples for the other half were much less detailed. In addition, the two sets of example pages concentrated on different types of activities.

    The new look diaries performed better than those from the pilot test, both in terms of response rates and the average number of episodes per diary. Respondents also made fewer errors when filling out the diary. Response to the time stress questions was much improved. This was attributed to a combination of better design and better positioning in the diary. The average number of episodes for both types of diaries (detailed and short example) were almost identical. Similarly, analysis of the diaries showed very little difference in types of activities reported by respondents using different diary types. Since the value of the example pages was in showing respondents how to complete the diaries, a broad variety of example activities was included in the diary for final enumeration.


    Data availability comments

    A summary publication and a confidentialised unit record file have been released. Special tabulations are available from Family and Community Statistics Section.

    06/06/2002 12:21 PM