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American Time Use Survey (ATUS)

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The American Time Use Survey (ATUS) measures the amount of time people spend doing various activities, such as paid work, childcare, volunteering, and socializing.

If you have been asked to participate in this survey, this site will help you verify that the survey came from the Census Bureau, verify that the person who called or came to your door is a Census Bureau employee, and inform you of how we protect your data.

If you have additional concerns that are not addressed on this page, and wish to contact someone at the Census Bureau, please see the contact information at the bottom of this page.

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What is the American Time Use Survey?

The American Time Use Survey asks questions about how people spend their time. Time is a resource – just like money – and knowing how people spend their time helps answer important questions. For example:

  • How much time do American spend working? Sleeping? In transit?
  • What is the value to the country of volunteer work?
  • How much time is spent in education or training?
  • Is this trend increasing or decreasing?
  • How much time do people spend taking care of children and the elderly?
  • What do people do with their time when they retire?
  • How often do people exercise, and what sorts of activities do they do for exercise?
  • Do people in different parts of the country spend their time differently?
  • Do men and women spend their time in different activities?
  • What is the quality of life like in the United States, and how does it compare to other countries?

The survey is sponsored by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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Why is this survey important?

Economists, social scientists, and other researchers design time-use studies to find out how people allocate their time between work, family, leisure, and other activities. Many people increasingly feel a “time crunch” trying to meet all of their work and family obligations, and time-use data provide insight into how household members divide up these duties.

Time-use data also measure the time spent in activities such as childcare, eldercare, and volunteer work. These activities are currently not included in measures of domestic economic output. Measuring these activities provides a better picture of all economic activity performed in the United States. Time-use data also provide more accurate information on labor for measuring productivity.

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What is the legal authority for conducting this survey?

Title 13, United States Code, Section 8, authorizes the U.S. Census Bureau to conduct this survey. Section 9 of Title 13, United States Code, requires us to keep all information about you and your household strictly confidential and that the information be used only for statistical purposes. In compliance with this law, all data released to the public are only in a statistical format. No information that could personally identify you or your family is released.

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What should you expect if you were selected to be in the survey?

  • The American Time Use Survey is a one-time only survey.
  • The ATUS takes 15 to 20 minutes to complete.
  • Census Bureau interviewers conduct this survey only over the telephone.
  • You will be asked to recall how you spent your time during the 24-hour period on the day before your interview. You will also be asked a few additional questions related to your time-use.

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I’ve just completed the Current Population Survey (CPS). Why was I selected to be in this survey?

We realize your time is valuable. By interviewing people in households that participated in the CPS, we avoid having to re-ask much of the information that was gathered in the CPS. This allows us to develop a nationally-representative sample with fewer interviews than if we did not have information from households in advance. This also reduces the costs for taxpayers and the survey length for respondents.

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How can I verify that the person contacting me is a Census Bureau employee?

If you wish to verify that the caller is a Census Bureau employee, you can call 1-800-331-4706 or you can use the staff search on our website.

Or, visit our page about identifying Census Bureau telephone interviewers for more information.

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Do I have to answer every question in the survey?

No, you do not need to answer a question or report an activity that you feel is too personal. The activities you do report are converted to numeric codes which allow for statistical analysis. All of your personal identifying information, such as name and address, is not reported.

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Is participation mandatory?

Your participation in this survey is voluntary. However, you have been selected to represent Americans similar to yourself. Your contribution helps to ensure our time-use data are as reliable and accurate as possible.

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Can I be identified by my responses?

The responses you provide for this survey are strictly confidential. They are used to produce statistical summaries. No information about your household or you as an individual can be identified through these statistics. The law completely protects your confidential answers from disclosure.

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How do I know my responses are safe?

The responses that are collected from surveys conducted by the Census Bureau are encrypted both in transit and at rest on the Census Bureau’s servers. These servers are part of a stand-alone network that is not accessible by the Internet. These servers are constantly monitored for any attempts at intrusion.

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Where can I find the statistics produced by this survey?

The statistics produced by this survey provide information for economic, health, family and childcare, and safety research. To see examples of reports, tables, and charts that use data from the survey, you can visit the website.

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What if I have additional questions, recommendations, or issues that I need resolved?

If you have additional questions about the survey, or if you wish to speak to someone at the Census Bureau, you can contact the respondent advocate. The respondent advocate can address the concerns of those households that have been selected to participate in this survey, as well as share that feedback with those who manage the survey operations.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics website offers additional information for persons selected to participate in the American Time Use Survey.

The Census Bureau has a web page “Are You In A Survey” designed to answer additional questions you might have about being in a Census Bureau survey.

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