Activities, durations, and the empirical estimation of utility

Publication type

Research Paper

Series Number



Working Papers


Publication date

September 1, 2009


This explores empirically the issue of diminishing marginal utility of specific
consumption experiences with respect to time It deploys a little-used pair of national
sample surveys, from the UK and the USA in the mid-1980s, consisting of diaries in
which respondents provide straightforward affect ratings for a day-long sequence of
activities, as the empirical basis for an estimation of the differing levels of enjoyment
(and hence utility) derived from various categories of activity by different sorts of people.
It demonstrates some striking similarities between the two countries’ mean relative
ratings of the enjoyment of various daily activities, and produces direct estimates of the
extent of diminishing marginal utility with respect to time in the case of some leisure
activities, again with remarkably similar estimates in the two countries. It concludes that
simple diary instruments recording enjoyment levels may be a suitable basis for, among
other applications, aggregation into national accounts of utility.


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