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Centre for Time Use Research

We work with time use data to investigate issues of social life, paid work patterns, work-life balance, family, gender, and socio-economic structure.

Co-Directors
Professor Jonathan Gershuny
Professor Oriel Sullivan

The Centre for Time Use Research (CTUR) specialises in developing the collection and analysis of time use diary data, disseminating both skills and datasets to a wide international audience, and conducting internationally recognised research. CTUR originated the Multinational Time Use Study (MTUS), which currently provides 1.5 million days of randomly sampled time diary evidence for 25 countries over 65 years.

Our centre also specialises in finding innovative applications for population time-use evidence in fields such as public health, transport and energy research.

CTUR is an Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) designated research centre and it has been based in the UCL Institute of Education since April 2019.

About us 

Background

The role of time in the social sciences is in some ways similar to that in the physical world. Outcomes are frequently a function of rates - of pay, enjoyment, and physical activity - which, multiplied by durations, lead to outcomes: economic welfare, feelings of well-being, or health status. 

Time-based metrics

Seen in this way, time provides an alternative systematic basis for considering social phenomena such as economic growth, wellbeing, gender relations, social class and ageing.

We might select rates that reflect affective values (utilities or simply enjoyment). Or we might use Metabolic Equivalents (METs) to indicate the health consequences of physical activity, or measures that reflect environmental issues (fossil energy requirements per minute), indicating the environmental "footprint" of different activities.  

We use these time-based metrics to complement money income, producing an integrated system of alternative indices of social progress. This allows discussion of the historical changes that produce social and economic 'bads' alongside economic goods in a better-balanced way than is possible by considering just money-based Gross National Product (GNP). 

This potential, added to the opportunity to calculate national income "extensions" by valuing unpaid work, allows the development of a diversity of non-money indicators of the state of individual well-being and social development.

Our team

The centre's group of researchers specialises in the collection and analysis of time diary materials, and the preparation of large scale cross-national and historical comparative data. 

The group includes economists, sociologists and demographers, spanning the academic life course from doctoral students to established professors. It has taken a leading international role in identifying and developing new research applications for time-diary-derived data.

Co-directors

Research team

Research

We aim to advance the collection and application of rigorously collected population-representative samples of time use diary data, and to conduct research into a wide range of issues in the human and social sciences using this data.

Activities

CTUR has been an ESRC research centre since 2014. Our ESRC research centre designation (until 2024) involves a range of activities including:

  • collecting new UK national time diary studies 
  • developing and piloting advanced diary instruments using motion sensors
  • body cameras GPS alongside conventional paper and internet based diaries and apps, as well as
  • maintaining and extending the Multinational Time Use Study.
Projects

New Frontiers in Time Use Research (NFTUR)

An ESRC responsive mode grant, which continues the dual resource and research role for the centre, funds the development of new time use data collection methods and of improvements to the MTUS, as well as projects on time-diary-based accounts of economic circumstances and well-being, on work, self-employment and unemployment, children’s time-use and life-outcomes, gender and work/life balance, eating and exercise, sleep, daily/weekly rhythms of work and leisure, and connections between work, ICT and wellbeing.

Social Change and Everyday Life (SCaEL)

An ERC advanced grant funding a programme of social research using time use diary data, with topics including time use and inequality, public regulation and the work-leisure balance, instantaneous utility measurement and integrated national accounts of wellbeing, embodied capital accumulation and social position, individual activity sequencing and long-term time-use estimation.

PARENTIME

An ERC consolidator grant to develop new socio-economic theories that unpack the detailed mechanisms driving the inter-generational transmission of inequality. The research takes a theoretically-driven Big Data approach by linking large representative 24-hour diary survey data of parents and children with very comprehensive and detailed information on child outcomes from administrative data to:

  1. go beyond the quantity of parental time to explore the inter-connections between family members and their role in the child’s acquisition of human capital (i.e., the timing and sequence, co-presence, multi-tasking, and instantaneous parental enjoyment).
  2. establish long-term effects of parental time investments by looking at a comprehensive set of child human capital measures all the way into the child’s adult life.
  3. arrive at a well-coordinated scientific approach, starting at the micro-sequential level of parents and children’s everyday life and building progressively to a macro understanding of the (re)production of socio-economic inequality.
The Multinational Time Use Study (MTUS)

MTUS is our flagship time use diary data archive, with currently over 85 nationally representative surveys from 25 countries, a total of 1.5 million diary days covering the period 1961 to 2015. 

We are the data providers for IPUMS.

The time use diary data archive

CTUR has pioneered this archive, locating surviving national time use surveys and persuading the original owners of the data to release the material. We reconstitute the samples, and recode both the diary and the ancillary questionnaire materials into "lowest common denominator" classificatory systems, then archive both the original and the derived MTUS files, and release the latter without charge (with more than 1,500 research users so far).  

Around 8 surveys are added each year, and we regularly review data availability to add extra harmonised materials to existing files.

Geographical regions

Current coverage is largely of Western Europe, North America and Australia, but we are expanding to add new geographical regions incorporating new types of welfare regime. We are now processing newly acquired materials from Eastern Europe, in addition to large studies from India and Pakistan, and considering adding historical data from developing countries.

Publications

Impact

One of the primary achievements of over our current ESRC research centre grant has been to motivate the Office for National Statistics (ONS) to reengage with time use diary data, resulting in a commitment to the continued collection and analysis of such data. 

Knowledge for development of national time use surveys

CTUR is committed to continue to support the ONS into the future as it seeks to build capacity in this area. On one hand, our resource program on new data collection methods, including the use of internet-based diaries, will provide new knowledge in developing national time use surveys.

National Accounts, quality of life and labour market statistics

On the research side, we have an agreement in place to work with colleagues in the ONS across a range of business areas, including the development of National Accounts, quality of life and labour market statistics.

Diary studies for medical issues

CTUR is responsible for finding new applications for population-representative time use surveys. As the balance of medical research moves forward from a focus on infectious disease to the study of what might be thought of as diseases of life-style, so our evidence on daily activity patterns becomes increasingly salient.

We have been instrumental in promoting the use of diary studies in relation to a range of medical issues (physical activity, sedentary behaviours, sleep, eating). Four of the ten articles in a recent (2019) special issue of the journal BMC Public Health on the deployment of time-use data, were authored or part-authored by CTUR members:

We are working with colleagues in the US National Institutes of Health to promote new cross-disciplinary research in this area.