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Measuring Time Use in Surveys: How Valid Are Time Use Questions in Surveys? Concordance of Survey and Experience Sampling Measures


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  • Bettina Sonnenberg
  • Michaela Riediger
  • Cornelia Wrzus
  • Gert G. Wagner


Since it is still unclear to what extent time allocation retrospectively reported in questionnaires, reflects people's actual behavior, examining the accuracy of responses to time use survey questions is of crucial importance. We analyze the congruence of time use information assessed through retrospective questionnaires and through experience sampling methodology. The sample comprised 433 individuals ranging in age from 14 to 86 years. Participants completed standard survey questions on time allocation. In addition, a mobile-phone based experience sampling technology was used over a period of three weeks to obtain snapshots of, on average, 54 momentary activities in which participants participated while pursuing their normal daily routines. Experience sampling assessments were scheduled six times a day over at least nine days, including workdays, Saturdays, andSundays. Results indicate that the congruence between time allocation assessed with survey questions (i.e. in SOEP) and time allocation assessed with experience sampling methodology depends on the characteristics of the respective activities. Associations between standard survey questions and experience sampling methods are quite substantial for long-lasting and externally structured activities, such as paid work on workdays. Incontrast, associations between survey and experience sampling methods are somewhat weaker, though highly statistically significant, for less externally structured, short-term and infrequent activities, such as errands, housework, and leisure. These moderate and relatively small correlations may indicate either an error-prone estimation of the prevalence of shortterm and infrequent activities by experience sampling or respondents' overrating of sporadic and short activities in survey questions. We conclude that activities with a long duration, such as paid work, can be measured in a satisfactory manner using short survey questions. Futureresearch is necessary to elucidate which method (experience sampling method or survey questions) delivers more reliable and valid measures for shortterm and sporadic activities.Day Reconstruction Methods (DRM) should be included in this future methodological research.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by DIW Berlin, The German Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP) in its series SOEPpapers on Multidisciplinary Panel Data Research with number 390.

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Length: 30 p.
Date of creation: 2011
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:diw:diwsop:diw_sp390

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Keywords: Survey methods; experience sampling method; validity; time use; market work; housework; leisure; German Socio-Economic Panel Study; MMAA; SOEP;

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  1. Thomas Siedler & Jürgen Schupp & C. Katharina Spieß & Gert G. Wagner, 2008. "The German Socio-Economic Panel as a Reference Data Set," SOEPpapers on Multidisciplinary Panel Data Research 150, DIW Berlin, The German Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP).
  2. Jens Bonke, 2005. "Paid Work and Unpaid Work: Diary Information Versus Questionnaire Information," Social Indicators Research, Springer, vol. 70(3), pages 349-368, 02.
  3. Gert G. Wagner & Joachim R. Frick & Jürgen Schupp, 2007. "The German Socio-Economic Panel Study (SOEP): Scope, Evolution and Enhancements," SOEPpapers on Multidisciplinary Panel Data Research 1, DIW Berlin, The German Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP).
  4. Blair, Edward & Burton, Scot, 1987. " Cognitive Processes Used by Survey Respondents to Answer Behavioral Frequency Questions," Journal of Consumer Research, University of Chicago Press, vol. 14(2), pages 280-88, September.
  5. Merz, Joachim & Wolff, Klaus G, 1993. "The Shadow Economy: Illicit Work and Household Production: A Microanalysis of West Germany," Review of Income and Wealth, International Association for Research in Income and Wealth, vol. 39(2), pages 177-94, June.
  6. Kimberly Fisher & Muriel Egerton & Jonathan Gershuny & John Robinson, 2007. "Gender Convergence in the American Heritage Time use Study (AHTUS)," Social Indicators Research, Springer, vol. 82(1), pages 1-33, May.
  7. Andrew Harvey, 1993. "Guidelines for time use data collection," Social Indicators Research, Springer, vol. 30(2), pages 197-228, November.
  8. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi & Jeremy Hunter, 2003. "Happiness in Everyday Life: The Uses of Experience Sampling," Journal of Happiness Studies, Springer, vol. 4(2), pages 185-199, June.
  9. Ragni Kitterød, 2001. "Does the recording of parallel activities in Time Use Diaries affect the way people report their main activities?," Social Indicators Research, Springer, vol. 56(2), pages 145-178, November.
  10. Frances McGinnity & Helen Russell, 2007. "Work Rich, Time Poor? Time-Use of Women and Men in Ireland," The Economic and Social Review, Economic and Social Studies, vol. 38(3), pages 323–354.
  11. Steffen Otterbach & Alfonso Sousa-Poza, 2010. "How Accurate are German Work-time Data? A Comparison of Time-diary Reports and Stylized Estimates," Social Indicators Research, Springer, vol. 97(3), pages 325-339, July.
  12. repec:ese:iserwp:2007-03 is not listed on IDEAS
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