Canadian time use surveys

I\’m told that I have to provide a comprehensive critique of this report.

It\’s an attempt to show that Canadians are ever more stretched for time in this worst of all modern worlds.

So here is my comprehensive critique.

It\’s bollocks.

Yes, I know  very academic of me and all that. But it is bollocks, entirely and totally so.

We\’ve a well established method of looking at time use. It\’s called a time use survey (hey, don\’t ever think economists aren\’t inventive with their nomenclature!).

A Canadian version of this is here.

We look at paid (or market) working hours and, as you can see, that includes all those pesky things like commutes, answering emails from home and so on.

We also look at unpaid or household production work. Scraping up the kiddie vomit, washing hubbies work shirts, cooking meals , maintaining the car and so on (presumably in Canada, digging the wolverines out of the driveway for half the year as well…wolverines are a type of domestic pet aren\’t they? Or maybe it\’s digging the cat out of the wolverine they have to do?).

We also look at personal time: you can\’t have someone else sleep for you, eat for you or wash for you so these aren\’t either unpaid or paid labour.

The balancing item to get us to 24 hours is therefore leisure.

Now, these boundaries aren\’t hard and fast: sex for example. This can indeed be a solo leisure activity, anyone in a long term relationship knows that in can sometimes be unpaid labour and of course it\’s possible, although we don\’t count it as such, for such unpaid labour to be replaced by paid market work.

Fortunately, except in Quebec, sex doesn\’t make up enough of the day to make such blurred distinctions important. But this is to note that the divisions aren\’t quite as rigid as these surveys make out.

Still, this is an internationally recognised way of measuring how much work, paid and unpaid, people are doing and thus how much personal time and leisure is happening.

If you wanted to see how time pressures were changing over time you would compare a recent (as linked to above) listing of how Canadians spend their time with an earlier one. Like this one perhaps. And if you were in Canada you might even be able to get that data to compare it.

And I have no doubt that what you would find is what has been happening all over the western or rich world for decade upon decade.

Male paid working hours have been declining. Male unpaid or houshold working hours have been declining. Female unpaid working hours have been declining and female paid or market working hours have been increasing. However, for women, the decline (as a result of technology, wonderful things like washing machines and microwaves) has been greater than the increase. And for both sexes for many decades leisure hours have been increasing.

So, why is this report that I\’m supposed to be critiquing entirely and purely bollocks?

Because that\’s not what the purveyors of the report wanted to show. So, therefore they ignore all of the standard methods of measuring working and leisure time, they don\’t even provide the figures from the Canadian Govts own time use surveys. They go off and make up their own measures. This is known in the trade as the lie indirect.

As an example, instead of measuring actual leisure time they decide to measure subjective \”time pressure\”. If people feel pressed for time then this must mean that they have less time.

Err, no. In an ever richer world we all have many more options (for example, women are not now limited to pumping out entire hockey squads and caring for them, they can become leader of the Conservative Party). Many more options brings us to what economists call opportunity costs. Precisely because we have many more options, even precisely because we have many more leisure options (do I listen to my iPad? Read Wired on my iPod? Turn on my Rampant Rabbit? Have a kaffeeklatsch?) even though we have more leisure time we feel, subjectively, more pressure on that greater leisure time.

This is, sadly, simply entirely and totally bollocks this report and shouldn\’t be given credence or houseroom.

Anyone who wants to measure whether Canadians are working more or less should look up (and they\’ll have to be in Canada to do this) the equivalent of this table from the last however many General Social Surveys it has been calculated for and come back to us with the all important answer: have leisure hours risen or fallen over the decades?

All else is bollocks.

5 thoughts on “Canadian time use surveys”

  1. Tim: “So, therefore they ignore all of the standard methods of measuring working and leisure time, they don’t even provide the figures from the Canadian Govts own time use surveys. They go off and make up their own measures.”

    You’re entitled to your own opinion, Tim, but not your own facts. As stated in section 5.1 of the report on Time Use, Review of Canadian Data Sources, “”The primary source for retrieving data in support of our proposed indicators is Statistics Canada. Statistics Canada’s General Social Survey on Time Use and other surveys that provide information for the proposed indicators are described here.”

    Or do you have evidence that the CIW also lied about their primary data sources? If so, show us the evidence. If not, you’ve just made up your rebuttal whole cloth.

    Tim adds: Sure, they refer to them. But do they quote them? Tell us what the numbers are? Even use them?

    No, they don’t. My point.

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  3. Tim wrote: “Sure, they refer to them. But do they quote them? Tell us what the numbers are? Even use them?”

    He answers his question, “No, they don’t. My point.”

    But if one actually reads the CIW Time Use report, one has to conclude that they do indeed quote the GSS, tell us what the numbers are and use them.

    Examples?

    Indicator 2 – Proportion of working age adults working non-standard hours

    “Table 4c: The proportion of full-time employed Canadians aged 20-64 years, by type of work arrangement and gender, 1992, 1998, 2005, 2009

    “Source: General social survey on Time Use, Statistics Canada, 1992, 1998, 2005, public use microdata files.”

    Indicator 3 – Proportion of working age adults reporting time pressure

    “The GSS on Time Use asks respondents to answer a series of questions related to their subjective experiences of time (see Appendix D for question details). The responses to these questions have been used to generate an index of ‘time pressure’. ”

    “Table 5: The proportion of Canadians aged 20-64 years who report high 1 levels of time pressure, by gender, 1992, 1998, 2005.”

    “Source: General social survey on Time Use, Statistics Canada, 1992, 1998, 2005, public use microdata files.”

    Indicator 8: Time spent eating at home with parents among teens, aged 15-17 years

    “Table 10a: Proportion of 15-17 year olds eating at home with their parents, 1992, 1998, 2005, by gender (on a typical 24 hour day).”

    “Source: Statistics Canada, General Social Survey on Time Use, Statistics Canada, 1992, 1998, 2005, public use files. Data are based on 24 hour diary data, but data were sampled from both weekend and week days.”

    “Table 10b: Mean time spent eating at home with parents for 15-17 year olds, 1992, 1998, 2005, by gender among participants only.”

    “Source: Statistics Canada, General Social Survey on Time Use, Statistics Canada, 1992, 1998, 2005, public use files. * Data are weighted by fwght (1992), wghtfin (1998), and WGHT_PER (2005)”

    Indicator 9 – Time spent by retired seniors in active leisure

    “Table 11a – Proportion of retired seniors engaged in active leisure by type

    “Source: General social survey on Time Use, Statistics Canada, 1992, 1998, 2005, public use microdata files.”

    “Table 11b – Average time spent by retired seniors in active leisure by type (hours/day)”

    “Source: General social survey on Time Use, Statistics Canada, 1992, 1998, 2005, public use microdata files.”

    Indicator 10 – Proportion of retired seniors engaged in formal volunteering

    “Table 12a: The proportion of retired seniors (65 yrs and over) who reported volunteering and mean number of hours per day, by gender, 1992, 1998, 2005

    “Source: General social survey on Time Use, Statistics Canada, 1992, 1998, 2005, public use microdata files.”

    And so on, ad nauseum.

    Exactly what could Tim have meant by his “No, they don’t. My point.” When the evidence is clear that they do? I would like to give Tim the benefit of the doubt and assume that he isn’t knowingly lying through his teeth. My guess is that Tim doesn’t understand the difference between DATA and INTERPRETATION OF DATA. I suspect Tim has elsewhere seen ANOTHER interpretation of the GSS time use data and is irate that the CIW report doesn’t simply swallow THAT interpretation and cite it with holy reverence.

    Well, Tim-O, that brings me to precisely my point: that the “facts” you cite incessantly as if they are holy writ are merely an interpretation of data (and in my view a pretty tendentious one). You similarly think the CIW interpretation of the data is tendentious. You are entitled to that view. But you’re not entitled to make up shit about how the CIW study doesn’t quote, use or tell us what the GSS Time Use study numbers are. That is simply not true. The examples I cited above are available in the following document:

    http://www.ciw.ca/Libraries/Documents/Time_Use-Full_Report.sflb.ashx

    Tim adds: They do not use the most basic numbers. They do not actually list whether Canadians are working more or less market hours, more of less home production hours, whether there has been a change in personal time nor do they quote the residual number for leisure. They do not, as I say, use the basic information. They don’t even tell us what that basic information is.

    And as I also say, I suspect that the reason for this is because that basic information doesn’t accord with what they want to say: that Canadians are, like the inhabitants of other rich countries, enjoying ever more leisure time.

    Thus the basic numbers must not be given: these alternative wibbles must be instead in order to build the case they want to make.

    So, to repeat what I’ve also said: if someone in Canada (as the data is only downloadable by someone in Canada) would like to complie that desired and needed information? What is the change in leisure hours over the period that the GSS survey has been done?

    Without those numbers the rest is entirely bollocks.

  4. Working hours figures are distorted by the rise in public sector employment where long hours are unusual.

  5. Sandwichman adds:

    Just as I suspected, Tim. You don’t know the difference between data and an interpretation of the data. You provided a link to a Statscan table, which gives aggregate averages for a number of categories. That’s not “the most basic numbers.” It’s one way of compiling the numbers — and, I would argue, a somewhat misleading presentation. It lumps together the unemployed, retired people and people in the workforce among other over generalizations. The CIW has no intellectual obligation to regurgitate any particular government table or hack analysis that YOU happen to believe is “the basic numbers.” Nor is it their remit to engage in a digressive critique of those “basic numbers” — because they are simply NOT the basic numbers. The basic numbers are the individual responses to the GSS survey contained in the microdata files. Period.

    There may indeed be flaws in the way that the CIW has interpreted the data but the fact that they haven’t reiterated an interpretation that you happened to find comforting is not itself a flaw. It could even be that the interpretation you favor is better than the CIW’s. But it would take real analysis to argue that, not the kind of knee-jerk arm waving that you’ve done here.

    Bill Gates walks into a room. The average wealth and income of the people in the room soars. Gates walks out. The averages plunge. So what?

    What is the change in leisure hours over the period that the GSS survey has been done? It depends on how you define “leisure” and on how you aggregate the demographic subcategories. Since there is no question on the survey about how much time is spent at “leisure” there would be a huge number of plausible answers to your question. Some would be better than others. None would be definitive. This might lead one to conclude that social statistics are rather fudgy. Precisely.

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