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Melvin Stephens, Estimating Program Benefits

An Assessment of Alternative Measures of Time Use

Publication Abstract

Juster, F. Thomas, Hiromi Ono, and Frank P. Stafford. 2003. "An Assessment of Alternative Measures of Time Use." Sociological Methodology, 33: 19-54.

Although time use has received much attention by social scientists as an index of resource allocation and social relations across groups, only a few studies have carefully assessed the relative strengths and weaknesses of the existing methods of measuring time use: time diary (TD), stylized (S) respondent report, and experiential sampling method (ESM). We note the varying degree of biases that arise in part from the extent of detail in the information collected by the three methods. Using findings from our analysis of the structure of these methods, we hypothesize that there are empirical exceptions to previously reported common findings that TD provides less biased information on time use than does S-namely (a) when labor market workers report their time spent on labor market work, and (b) when the historical trend in time, rather than the absolute level, is studied. Empirical results confirm our prediction and show that, among individuals who work regularly, TD and S estimates of labor market work hours reported by the same persons correspond closely to one another. In addition, when assessing historical trends, TD, and S values correspond closely to one another, although TDs yield some inexplicable deviations from the trend even when the sample and the codes are carefully standardized. We also provide notes on a strategy of standardization fir diary codes that are distinct across historical or national contexts.

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