More Than the Sum of Parts: why treating time diaries as holistic units matters in time use analysis

Publication type

Conference Paper


ISA World Congress of Sociology


Publication date

July 24, 2006


Some critics of time use research have failed to grasp that time diary data reveal snapshots of the typical daily behaviour of populations rather than the typical behaviour of specific individuals. Time use researchers, for their part, have tended to forget that each diary in datasets tells the story of the activities of a particular person, and instead have focussed on information recorded in particular variable columns. This paper demonstrates the importance of analysing time diaries as holistic stories rather than as collections of variable columns, using the process of identifying low quality diaries to exclude from analysis as an example. Taking a holistic approach to diary analysis reveals that respondents can record complete activity information without completing all columns in the diary, making some imputation and some exclusions that researchers have made in the past unnecessary. Such an approach also reveals a need for a more broad definition of what constitutes a low quality diary than simply concentrating on missing main activity time. Similarly, holistic diary analysis introduces an additional element to time use methodology - a need to explain how the researcher extracts variables for analysis. This paper concludes with consideration how the whole diary approach improves prospects for comparing time use results across time and across country.

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