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Back | Programme Area: Gender and Development (2000 - 2009)

A Critical Review of Selected Time Use Surveys



This paper was prepared as part of the preparatory phase for the UNRISD research project on Political and Social Economy of Care. The overall aim of the project is to examine the way in which care is provided and allocated between the family/household, state, market and “community”, and its articulation with the commodity economy in different countries.

The country case studies being commissioned for the project will combine quantitative and qualitative research methods to analyse policy in this area; describe the institutional shape of the various “care regimes”; provide micro-level quantitative analysis of how women, men, girls and boys within households “take care” of other household members; and explore the implications of the findings for poverty and social exclusion.

The recent undertaking of a national time use survey was one of the criteria for the selection of countries for the UNRISD research project. Such surveys, also called time budget surveys, aim to provide information on people’s activities over a given time period (generally a day or a week) and the amount of time they spend on each of the specified activities.

This selection criterion was included because time use surveys are one of the few sources that can provide sound data on unpaid care work—the work, or “production”, that usually falls mainly on women’s shoulders and that includes housework; care at the household level for children, the elderly, sick people and those with disabilities; and voluntary community-oriented work.

The main purpose of this paper is, therefore, to critically review selected time use surveys conducted in countries from different regions of the world, in order to assess their quality. An additional purpose is to inform the design of the qualitative research to be undertaken by the project.

The paper presents the results of a desk-based study, as well as limited interaction with people knowledgeable about the surveys undertaken in countries included in the study: Argentina, Brazil, Mexico and Nicaragua (in Latin America); Bangladesh, India and the Republic of Korea (in Asia); and Chad, Mali, Tanzania and South Africa (in sub-Saharan Africa). The paper focuses on the following seven issues in reviewing the country experiences:

• assessing the design of the survey;
• delineating the scope of the survey and the information it contains;
• assessing the quality of the data obtained, with particular attention to data available on unpaid care work;
• identifying weaknesses in the data and survey design, especially with respect to unpaid care work;
• identifying countries most suitable for inclusion in the second phase of the project;
• identifying issues for exploration through qualitative research in the second phase of the project; and
• providing some recommendations, in terms of design/methodology, scope and training for fieldworkers, for future time use surveys.

The technical details covered in the case studies include the format of the questions, sample size, age group, number of members covered per household, and whether the time use survey was “stand-alone” or was carried out as part of a module for another survey. Where available, the descriptions include some findings that relate directly to the focus of the UNRISD research. The paper also notes, where possible, whether the raw data from the surveys are available to researchers.

Because of a widespread lack of knowledge about the nature and potential of time use surveys, the country case studies are preceded by a brief discussion of key concepts and issues to assist readers in understanding the significance of particular characteristics of the surveys highlighted later in the paper. The surveys conducted in developing countries over recent years have drawn heavily on other—mainly developed—countries’ experience of conducting surveys. Although this is reflected in the discussion, the paper focuses on those aspects of most relevance for developing countries.

After presenting the country case studies, the paper suggests which countries could be included in the second phase of the UNRISD research project, possible areas of investigation for this phase, and some general recommendations in respect of future time use surveys in developing countries.
  • Publication and ordering details
  • Pub. Date: 1 Jun 2007
    Pub. Place: Geneva
    ISSN: 1994-8026
    From: UNRISD