Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
What is ATUS-X?
What's in the future for ATUS-X?
Does ATUS-X add value to the data?
What is the Eating and Health Module?
What is the Well-Being Module?
What is the Leave Module?
Where should a new user start?
How do I get access to ATUS-X data?
What are microdata?
What are "weights"?
What does "universe" mean in the variable descriptions?
Why are there so many different sample member selection options?
What is the difference between rectangular and hierarchical data?
What is the difference between variables with and without the _CPS8 extension?
What are time use variables?
Using the system
Why can't I create a time use variable for the hours of the day I have specified?
Can I delete previously created time use variables?
Is there a limit on the number of time use variables I can include in an extract?
How do I obtain data?
What is the format of the data?
How long does a data extract take?
How does "sample selection" work on the ATUS-X web site?
What does "add to cart" mean?
Why can't I open the data file?
Is there a preferred statistical package for analyzing extracts created using the ATUS-X?
Can I analyze ATUS-X data online without a statistical package?
Can I get the original ATUS data?
Using ATUS-X data
What are the major limitations of the data?
How do I cite ATUS-X?
Using the variables page
Variables page menu
Variables page details
Using the data extract system
Your data cart
Why are some variables in my data cart preselected?
What is "Type"?
Extract request page
Extract definition: Data structure
Extract option: Select data quality flags
Extract option: Describe your extract
General information about the project
What is ATUS-X? [top]
ATUS-X is a project dedicated to making it easy for researchers to use data from the American Time Use Survey (ATUS). The ATUS is an ongoing time diary study, started in 2003, that is funded by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and fielded by the U.S. Census Bureau.
Time diary data allow researchers to look at how much time people spend doing different things. The ATUS provides information on time spent in each of more than 400 detailed activities. For certain purposes, it may be of interest to look at activities that people do at particular times of day (for example, paid work that occurs between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m.), in different locations (for example, paid work done at home) or during which the respondent had a child in their care. ATUS-X offers flexible tools for creating time use variables based on the ATUS.
The ATUS-X project assigns uniform codes across all of the data collection years and brings relevant documentation into a coherent form to facilitate analysis of the data. We provide descriptions of all of the variables we offer and, for categorical variables, codes and frequency counts for each year they exist in the data.
The ATUS is composed of microdata. Records may be at the household, person, or activity level. All characteristics on each record are numerically coded. People are organized into households and information on the characteristics of all household members is available, making it possible to analyze people in the context of their families or other co-residents. One person in each household is selected to participate in the American Time Use Survey. These respondents report all of the activities they engaged in over a 24 hour period. Each activity that is reported constitutes a separate record. Because the data consist of records that refer to individuals and the activities they engage in and not tables, researchers must use a statistical package to analyze the data. The data access system allows users to select only the years and variables they require.
What's in the future for ATUS-X? [top]
ATUS-X is funded through 2017 by a grant from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. In the first phase of the project, we have developed a website that allows data users (1) to aggregate the time spent in combinations of user-defined activities, restricted if desired by time of day, location, whether the person had children in their care during the activity, and/or whether the person was eating or drinking during the activity, and (2) to select additional variables that characterize the individual ATUS respondents and their household. Users may also create time use variables that consider the amount of time spent with other household members or with particular groups of non-household members.
We will continue to improve our website and documentation. We plan an annual data system release each June.
To continue to secure further funding as our current grant expires, we need to have a large body of users and published works that we can document. Please inform us of any presentations you may give or papers you may write using ATUS data.
Does ATUS-X add value to the data? [top]
The ATUS data files released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics are complex and considerable programming effort may be required to create even relatively simple time use variables. The ATUS-X data access system makes it easy for users to create the time use variables they want, thus making the data more accessible to a broader audience. The system aggregates time spent in user-specified combinations of activities and applies any requested filters behind the scenes and delivers this information to users in the form of a time use variable.
The ATUS-X data access system adds further value by integrating the ATUS-X data over time, in the sense that uniform codes have been assigned to variables. All codes are fully documented and variable documentation has been compiled in a convenient hyperlinked web format.
What is the Eating and Health Module? [top]
The Eating and Health Module (EH Module) is a special supplement to the ATUS that collects data from ATUS respondents on time spent in secondary eating and drinking activities, grocery shopping, meal preparation, and health status. The module was supported by the Economic Research Service of the United States Department of Agriculture and the National Cancer Institute, Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences, Applied Research Program. It was fielded from 2006-2008 and again from 2014-2016. Because there were a small number of non-respondents to the module, users of data collected through the EH Module should use the weighting variable EHWT to obtain estimates rather than the standard weighting variable WT06. More information about secondary eating and drinking data is available elsewhere.
What is the Well-Being Module? [top]
The Well-Being Module (WB Module) is a special supplement to the ATUS that collects quality of life data for three randomly selected activities reported for each respondent, information about how well-rested the respondent felt on the day about which he or she was interviewed, and information about health including whether the respondent has high blood pressure, takes pain medication, and self-reported health status. The module, fielded in 2010 and 2012-2013, was supported by the National Institute on Aging. Because there were a small number of non-respondents to the module, the standard weighting variable WT06 is not appropriate for analyses containing information collected as part of the WB Module. The BLS recommends using different weights for different usage scenarios as follows:
- WBWT: Estimates using only person-level health questions collected as part of the WB Module.
- AWBWT: Estimates using only activity-level WB Module data.
- AWBWT: Estimates using both person-level health questions from the WB Module and WB Module activity data.
More information about activity-level WB Module data is available elsewhere.
What is the Leave Module? [top]
The Leave Module is a special supplement to the ATUS that collects data from ATUS respondents about access to paid leave and whether the respondent took paid leave during the past seven days. The module was supported by the U.S. Department of Labor Women's Bureau and was fielded in 2011. Because only respondents who were employed wage and salary workers were eligible for the module and not everyone who was eligible participated in the module, users of data collected through the Leave Module should use the weighting variable LVWT to obtain estimates rather than the standard weighting variable WT06.
Where should a new user start? [top]
The documentation is a natural starting place for new ATUS-X users. We have a page dedicated to helping new users navigate our site.
The Variables page is the primary tool for exploring the contents of ATUS-X. On the variables page, clicking on a variable name brings up its documentation. The documentation contains a description of the variable as well as the codes, labels, and frequencies for all categorical variables and availability of the variable across samples. This information can suggest the types of research possible with a given sample.
If you are already registered to use ATUS-X, you can click on create an extract and use the data access system.
How do I get access to ATUS-X data? [top]
Access to the ATUS-X documentation is freely available without restriction; however, users must register in order to extract data from the website.
What are microdata? [top]
ATUS microdata consist of individual records containing information collected on people, their households, and their activities. The unit of observation is the individual. The responses of each person to the different questions are recorded in separate variables.
Microdata stand in contrast to more familiar "summary" or "aggregate" data. Aggregate data are compiled statistics, such as a table showing the average amount of time each day that parents spend taking care of their children. There are no such tabular or summary statistics in the ATUS data.
Microdata are inherently flexible. You do not need to depend on published statistics that compiled the data in a certain way, if at all. You can generate your own statistics from the data in any manner desired, including individual-level multivariate analyses.
What are "weights"? [top]
Weights are necessary to produce meaningful summary statistics based on the ATUS data. There are several features of the sampling and data collection process that make weights necessary. First, people and households with some characteristics are over-represented in the data, while others are underrepresented. Second, weekend days are oversampled - half of the respondents report activities that occurred on a weekend day while the other half reported on activities that occurred on a weekday. In addition, response rates differ across demographic groups and days of the week. For these reasons, some ATUS records represent more cases than others and weights allow you to take this into account when analyzing the data.
Most statistical packages have an option that allows you to specify a weight to be used for calculations you carry out. For most person-level analyses of data extracted using ATUS-X, the WT06 variable should be specified. WT06 gives the number of person-days in the calendar quarter represented by each survey response. Exceptions are analyses that use data from special modules including the Eating and Health Module and the Well-Being Module.
What does "universe" mean in the variable descriptions? [top]
The universe is the population at risk of having a response for the variable in question. In most cases these are the households or persons to whom the question was asked. For example, only people who are employed are asked questions about their earnings on the job. Cases that are outside of the universe for a variable are labeled "NIU" in the codes and frequencies sections of the variable descriptions.
The universes typically take one of four forms:
- All ATUS respondents: Variables with this universe (or some variant) were collected at the time of the ATUS interview and are only available for the one person in each household who responded to the ATUS.
- All ATUS respondents and their household members: Variables with this universe (or some variant) are available for all individuals who were in the household at the time of the ATUS interview; these include RELATE, SEX, and AGE.
- All Current Population Survey (CPS) household members: Variables with this universe (or some variant) are available for all individuals who were in the household at the time of the CPS interview, which occurred 2-5 months prior to the ATUS interview.
- All ATUS (or CPS) households: Variables with this universe (or some variant) are available for all households in the survey indicated.
The universes will not always be entirely clean of apparently erroneous cases. Some people or households that should not have answered the question will have done so, and some that should have answered may be included in the "NIU" (not in universe) category. With the exception of the variables we construct for the convenience of users, these errors reflect problems in the original data.
Why are there so many different sample member selection options? [top]
Potential respondents to the ATUS were drawn from the outgoing rotation group of the Current Population Survey (CPS). The original ATUS public use files contain information on all sampled households and individuals whether or not they participated in the ATUS. To reach the broadest audience possible with our efforts, we have preserved much of the original detail in the public use files including household members of respondents and households in the CPS whose designated respondent did not participate in the ATUS.
We expect that most users will select the "ATUS respondents" samples. Though time use information is only available for designated respondents, users who are interested in the characteristics of other household members may wish to select "ATUS respondents and members of their households." A number of variables pertaining to the characteristics of other household members are also available for selection directly through the ATUS-X data access system. Additional information about sample member selection options is available.
What is the difference between rectangular and hierarchical data? [top]
The ATUS-X data access system delivers rectangular data by default. The rectangularized data file does not retain households or activities as separate records. Household information is put on the person records of each individual in the household. Time use variables created in the system consisting of aggregated time spent in user-specified activities are also delivered on the person record. With rectangularization, there are no separate household, activity, or who records in the data extract. No information is lost, and most researchers prefer this format.
The rectangular format default can, however, be overridden to yield hierarchical data consisting of household records followed by the person records of household members, activity records of ATUS respondents, and who records that accompany activity records. Users who request hierarchical data will need to select variables for inclusion in their extracts from the activity and who records. This is done on the same page in the extract builder as the selection of household and person level variables.
What is the difference between variables with and without the _CPS8 extension? [top]
Respondents invited to participate in the ATUS were drawn from outgoing rotation groups of the Current Population Survey (CPS). ATUS interviews occurred 2-5 months after the final CPS interviews. The ATUS public use files allow users to link information about ATUS respondents, non-respondents, and their household members to the most recent CPS data available for all individuals and households invited to participate in the ATUS. Some of the questions asked in the CPS were asked again at the time of the ATUS interview. Examples of questions asked on both occasions include EMPSTAT and EMPSTAT_CPS8; AGE and AGE_CPS8; and EARNWEEK and EARNWEEK_CPS8. In these cases, the _CPS8 extension is used to distinguish the response given at the time of the CPS interview from updated responses collected 2-5 months later during the ATUS interview.
Some information collected at the time of the CPS interview (mostly detailed information about respondents' jobs) was not updated during the ATUS interview. Examples of such information include IND_OJ_CPS8, OCC_OJ_CPS8, and UNION_CPS8. In these cases, the _CPS8 extension tells the data user that the information was collected during the CPS interview rather than the ATUS interview.
The majority of information collected at the time of the ATUS interview is only available for ATUS respondents. Limited information on ATUS respondent household members was collected, such as RELATE, SEX, and AGE.
What are time use variables? [top]
Time use variables are user-defined combinations of activities and/or filters that limit attention to activity meeting certain conditions. Time use variables return the number of minutes respondents spend during the 24-hour reference period in activities matching the specified criteria. ATUS respondents reported the activities they engaged in over a 24-hour period from 4 a.m. to 4 a.m. They also reported where and when these activities took place, whether they were also caring for a child under 13, eating or drinking during the activity, or providing eldercare, and who was with them during the activity.
You can create your own time use variables in the ATUS data access system by selecting the activities of interest and restricting them to certain locations, times of day, secondary activities, and the presence of others. For example, if you were interested in studying shift work, you might create two time use variables by combining Work and Work Related activities with a time filter for two paid work shifts: first shift (7 a.m. to 3 p.m.) and second shift (3 p.m. to 11 p.m.). You could analyze the individual and occupational characteristics of individuals who work during the first shift with those who work during the second shift.
Using the system
Why can't I create a time use variable for the hours of the day I have specified? [top]
The ATUS diary covers a 24-hour period that begins at 4 a.m. on one day and ends at 4 a.m. the next day. In the current version of the data extract builder, users are not permitted to specify a time interval for the time filter to be applied in creating time use variables that begins before 4 a.m. and ends after 4 a.m. To capture the time spent during such an interval, you must create two time use variables, one for the portion of the interval before 4 a.m. and the second for the portion of the interval after 4 a.m. These two variables then may be summed once you have received your data extract.
Suppose, for example, that you are interested in time spent sleeping during the hours between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. The data extract builder will not allow you to enter a start time of 11 p.m. and an end time of 7 a.m. for your time filter. Instead, you should create one variable for minutes spent sleeping between 11 p.m. and 4 a.m. and then a second variable for minutes spent sleeping between 4 a.m. and 7 a.m. The sum of these two variables will equal minutes spent sleeping between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m.
Can I delete previously created time use variables? [top]
Our system does allow you to delete time use variables. Click on "Select data" in the top navigation bar; then select the option Time Use and click on "My Time Use Variables." From there you can see the time use variables you've created (click on the variable name to see more detailed information) and you can delete any time use variables you no longer want to use.
Is there a limit on the number of time use variables I can include in an extract? [top]
You may only include 50 time use variables in any given extract. If you need more than 50 time use variables, you will need to create additional extracts, which you can then merge together using CASEID and LINENO.
How do I obtain data? [top]
ATUS-X data are delivered through our data access system. Users select the years they are interested in, create and select time use variables, and select variables. The system then creates a custom-made extract containing only this information. To start, users can reference our instructions for opening an extract on your computer.
Data are generated on our server. The system sends out an email message to the user when the extract is completed. The user must download the extract and analyze it on their local machine. Access to the documentation is freely available without restriction; however, users must register in order to extract data from the website.
What is the format of the data? [top]
ATUS-X produces fixed-column ASCII data. The data are entirely numeric. The extraction system rectangularizes the data by default, i.e. it puts household information on the person records and aggregates time spent in user-defined activities and puts time use variables on the person records.
In addition to the ASCII data file, the system creates a statistical package syntax file to accompany each extract. The syntax file is designed to read in the ASCII data while applying appropriate variable and value labels. SPSS, SAS, and Stata are supported. You must download the syntax file with the extract or you will be unable to read the data. The syntax file requires minor editing to identify the location of the data file on your local computer.
A codebook file is also created with each extract. It records the characteristics of your extract and should be downloaded for your records.
How long does a data extract take? [top]
The time needed to make an extract depends on the number and size of samples requested and the load on our server. Extracts can take from a few minutes to an hour or more. The system sends an email when the extract is completed, so there is no need to stay active on the ATUS-X site while the extract is being made.
How does "sample selection" work on the ATUS-X web site? [top]
When a user first enters the variable documentation system, all samples are selected by default. Every variable in the system will display on all relevant screens.
Users can filter the information displayed by selecting only the samples of interest to them. Only the variables available in one of the selected samples will appear in the variable lists. The integrated variable descriptions and codes pages will also be filtered to display only the text and columns corresponding to the selected samples. Sample selections can be altered at any time in your session. Selections do not persist beyond the current session.
When a user enters the extract system after selecting samples, those selections are carried into the data extract system.
What does "add to cart" mean? [top]
While browsing variables in the documentation system, you can place them into your data cart. Checkboxes and buttons labeled "Add to cart" are available in different contexts for this purpose. Any variables you identify in this way will be selected for you when you enter the data extract system. Once in the extract system, you can return to the variable list to make more selections.
Why can't I open the data file? [top]
The explanation is likely that you cannot open the data file directly with a statistical package. The file is a simple ASCII file, not a system file in the format of any statistical package. The extract system does, however, generate a syntax (set-up) file to read the ASCII file into your statistical package. You must download the syntax file along with the data file from our server, open the syntax file with your statistical package, and edit the path in the syntax file to point to the location of the data on your local computer. Now you are ready to read in the data.
Is there a preferred statistical package for analyzing extracts created using the ATUS-X? [top]
ATUS-X supports SPSS, SAS and Stata. The system does not make data files in those formats, but generates syntax files with which to read in the ASCII data.
Can I analyze ATUS-X data online without a statistical package? [top]
At this time, users are not able to analyze ATUS-X data online.
Can I get the original ATUS data? [top]
All original ATUS data are available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Using ATUS-X data
What are the major limitations of the data? [top]
The ATUS data contain information for only one member of each household over one 24-hour period.
With the exception of secondary child care (defined as having a child in one's care while engaged in another activity), secondary eldercare (defined as having an elder person in one's care while engaged in another activity), and secondary eating and drinking (collected as part of the Eating and Health module fielded from 2006 to 2008), information on secondary activities is not routinely collected.
Although the ATUS sample size is large relative to past time use studies, the ATUS is a sample survey and there may be too few observations for some subpopulations to study them separately.
Because the data are public-use, measures have been taken to assure confidentiality. Names and other identifying information are suppressed, and the geographic information recorded in the ATUS data files is limited.
How do I cite ATUS-X? [top]
Reports and publications using ATUS-X data must be cited appropriately. The citation is:
If possible, citations should also include the URL for the ATUS-X site: http://www.atusdata.org.
We ask that you notify us by email of any publications, research reports, presentations, or educational material making use of the data or documentation. Continued funding for the ATUS-X depends on our ability to show our sponsor agencies that the data are being used for productive purposes.
Using the variables page
Variables page menu [top]
Use the "Variables" menu to browse or search variables:
Household: household variables by group
Person: person variables by group
Activity: activity variables by group
Who: who variables by group
Time Use: time use variables by group
Search: display only variables that contain specified text in particular fields
Use the links on the right side of the menu to:
Create a Time Use Variable: create user-defined aggregations of activities, locations, times, secondary activity, and co-presence of others
Select Samples: limit the display of variable information to selected samples
Rectangular/Hierarchical: chose a rectangular or hierarchical extract
Options: alter how the variable list is displayed or get help for this page
Variables page details [top]
The variables page allows you to browse variables while limiting and controlling how the information is displayed.
The "Variables" menu is for browsing the variables. You may also search variables by specifying search terms for specific fields of variable metadata. The system will return a list of variables that include any of the search terms you indicate.
When you "Create a Time Use Variable" you enter the time use variable creation process where you can load existing time use variables to use as templates for creating new variables or you can create new time use variables from scratch. You are required to name and label your time use variable before exiting the process or you lose the time use variable you have defined.
When you "Select Samples" you limit the variable list to display only variables that are available in at least one of those samples. But the effect of selecting samples extends into all the variable descriptions and codes pages you can access through the variable system. Only information relevant to your selected samples will be displayed in any context while you browse the variables. You can change your sample selections at any point.
The final choices are "Options" and "Help." The "Display Options" item brings up a screen that offers a number of choices regarding the display of the variable list. Each selection has a default choice.
View one group / View all groups
Switch between viewing one variable group at a time and viewing all variable groups on one screen. Unless you have a limited number of samples selected, your browser may be slow to display all groups. The default view is one group at a time.
Show availability detail / Show availability summary
Switch between displaying the full sample-specific availability matrix, and a view that only displays the total number of samples that contain each variable. Both views only display or sum the samples that the user has selected in "Select samples." The default view is the detailed availability information.
View available variables / View all variables
Switch between a view that only displays variables present in one of your selected samples, and a view that displays every variable, even if they are not available. The default view is to only display available variables.
Samples are displayed chronologically / Samples . . . reverse chronologically
Display the samples columns indicating variable availability in chronological order (oldest to newest) or reverse chronological order (newest to oldest). The default is reverse chronological (newest to oldest).
The Variable List
As you browse the variables, they are displayed in a list containing a number of columns. The variable name links to the variable description, which includes detailed comparability discussions, universes, and enumeration text. The variable codes -- and their associated labels -- can be accessed directly using the "codes" links. The "type" column indicates if it is a person or household variable. In some contexts, like the alphabetic view, the two types are pooled together.
In the area to the right of the "codes" column is a column for every sample that the user chose in "Select samples." By default, the most commonly requested samples from each year are selected. The country abbreviation and last two digits of the sample year identify each sample at the top of every column. Hover over the year with the mouse to see the full country name. If a variable is available in a given sample, an "x" is printed in that column.
Each variable has a box on the far left in the column labeled "Add to cart." Use these to identify variables you wish to include in a data extract.
Using the data extract system
Your data cart [top]
You must be logged in to use the data extract system. If you are not registered, you must apply for access.
At the top right corner of the variables page is a summary of your data cart. This box displays the number of variables and samples you have selected. Clicking the yellow circle next to a variable places it in your data cart. You can view your data cart at any time by clicking "View Cart." The "View Cart" link only becomes operative when you have selected a variable or sample.
You data cart lists the variables pre-selected by the extract system as well as any variables you selected while browsing the documentation. As with the variable selection page, you can remove variables from your extract in this step by clicking the checkbox next to the variable in the "Add to cart" column. If you chose a variable but subsequently altered your sample selections in such a way that the variable is no longer available, it is indicated by an "i" icon.
The data cart also includes record type, links to codes pages, and sample availability for the variables in your cart.
Buttons are provided to return to the variable list to make more selections or to alter your sample choices. If you return to the variable list, click on "View Cart" again to return to the data cart.
When you are satisfied with your data selections, click "Create Data Extract" to finalize your extract request.
Why are some variables in my data cart preselected? [top]
Certain variables appear in your data cart even if you did not select them, and they are not included in the constantly updated count of variables in your data cart.
Unless you are absolutely certain you will not need one of these variables, we recommend that you not remove them from your data cart.
What is "Type"? [top]
The "Type" column on the variables selection pages and in your data cart indicates the record type of the variable. The variables with an "H" are from the household record; the variables with a "P" are from the person record; the variables with a "A" are from the activity record; and the variables with a "W" are from the who record. Data at the household level pertain to the ATUS respondent (and other individuals included in the extract), and are identical on each person record within a household in the rectangular data file. Activity and who records are not included in rectangular data files except as time use variables where the activity and who data serve as building blocks.
Extract request page [top]
When you click "Create data extract" in the Data Cart, you come to the Extract Request page. All of the actions on this page are optional. If you wish, you can simply hit the "Submit" button and create your data extract. You will be prompted to log in if have not done so already.
The page summarizes your data extract and provides a number of options for customizing it. A link at the top expands to show the samples you selected. If any samples have notes associated with them, a message will appear on the samples bar to encourage you to review that information. Click the appropriate links to go back to the variable browsing and sample selection pages to alter your choices. You return to the extract request page via the data cart, where you can review the availability matrix for selections and easily drop variables by unchecking them.
A separate link lets you choose the preferred data structure for your extract: rectangular or hierarchical. Rectangular format is the default.
Another row on the page indicates the type of people included in the extract. ATUS respondents only are the default, but there is also information (but not from time diaries) available for different types of people.
When you submit an extract, there will be a delay ranging from minutes to hours, depending on the size of the job. You do not need to wait on our site for the job to be completed. Our system will send you an email when your extract is ready.
The definitions of every extract will remain on our server indefinitely, but the data files are subject to deletion after three days. However, the screen where you download extracts has a feature that lets you revise old extracts. When you click on "revise," all your selections for that extract will be loaded into the system, after which you can edit or regenerate it. Note, however, that each successive data release can create difficulties for recreating old extracts, because codes might change.
Extract definition: Data structure [top]
You can choose the preferred file structure for your extract. Rectangular data only contain person records -- requested household information is attached to each household member. Hierarchical data contains a distinct household record followed by a separate person record for each ATUS respondent (and other people as requested). Each ATUS respondent also has information about the activities they reported in the time diary and the co-presence of others during each activity, which is delivered on who records belonging to each activity. The system defaults to rectangular format, which is the overwhelming choice of researchers.
Extract option: Select data quality flags [top]
The data extract system can include data quality flags for the variables they are available.
Extract option: Describe your extract [top]
You can describe your extract for future reference. Our system will display the description on the page where you download your data extract.