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American Time Use Survey (ATUS)

While many people are familiar with the United States Census, which is taken every 10 years as mandated by the Constitution, there are actually over 100 different surveys conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau each year. In this educational series, SBB Research Group summarizes key information from about these lesser-known—but highly important—surveys.

What is the American Time Use Survey (ATUS)?

The American Time Use Survey (ATUS) is sponsored by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and conducted annually by the U.S. Census Bureau since 2003. It is designed to gather information about how people allocate their time between work, family, leisure, and other activities. It is a voluntary survey that takes approximately fifteen to twenty minutes and is conducted only by telephone.

How ATUS Data is Used

Researchers, including economists and social scientists, use ATUS data to create a detailed picture of economic activity in the United States. The data collected includes time spent in childcare, eldercare, and volunteer work not captured in other domestic economic output measures.

The data collected answers important questions, including:

  • How much leisure time do people have?

  • What do people prefer to do with their leisure time?

  • How often do people perform work for their employer even after the workday is completed?

  • Do people in different parts of the country spend their time differently?

  • Do men and women spend their time differently?

  • How do different age groups, such as retirees or students, spend their time?

  • How does the quality of life differ across the country?

  • How does the quality of life in the United States compare to other countries?

Comparing one survey against another reveals critical trends in how Americans spend their time.

Survey Eligibility

Participants for the ATUS are selected from participants of the most recent Current Population Survey (CPS). This practice allows the government to expand on the CPS information without re-asking the CPS questions, saving time for surveyors and participants.

General Topics in the Survey

The survey questions are focused primarily on the participant's activities over the last 24-hour period. Participants are asked to answer questions related to how much time they have spent engaged in the following activities:

  • Working

  • Commuting

  • Volunteering

  • Gaining an education

  • Caring for children or elderly

  • Exercising or playing sports

Privacy of Information Collected

The U.S. Census Bureau is required to keep all information collected in the ATUS strictly confidential (Title 13 of the U.S. Code, Section 9). The information gathered can only be used for statistical purposes and released to the public in a statistical format only. No personally identifiable information is released.


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