Time use surveys — collecting statistics about the unpaid household and care work traditionally performed by women — increasingly are being used to inform development agendas in developing countries, a report from the United Nations Foundation's Data2X initiative finds.
The report, Invisible No More? A Methodology and Policy Review of How Time Use Surveys Measure Unpaid Work (72 pages, PDF), found that in recent decades a total of eighty-eight countries have fielded more than two hundred and fifty large-scale time use surveys with the goal of identifying good practices in designing comparable, simple measures of unpaid household and care work. While only about 5 percent of nationally representative surveys conducted between 2000 and 2012 collected gender-specific information on the average number of hours spent on unpaid care and domestic work, two United Nations mandates are driving increased efforts to do so. For example, Sustainable Development Goal indicator 5.4 calls for measuring and recognizing unpaid care and domestic work, while a 2013 agreement among international labor statisticians that was adopted by the International Labour Organization broadened the definition of what is considered work in labor force surveys and national account systems.
According to the study, Europe and Latin America have led the way in implementing regional time use surveys, while countries in Asia and Africa only began fielding them in the late 1990s. However, as data collection methods have improved, the report notes, they have been increasingly systematized within national statistical agencies, which has helped to build administrative and political support for data collection.
Based on case studies of eighteen countries, the report found that in seven of those countries — Albania, Cambodia, Columbia, Finland, Mexico, Moldova, and Uruguay — time use data collection and analysis directly influenced policy and/or was used to monitor the progress of and evaluate the impact of specific policies. The study also found that in Mongolia, South Korea, and Tanzania, time use survey data had indirectly influenced "policy horizons" by shaping the values, beliefs, or mindsets of policy makers or the public, while in eight countries — Chile, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, India, Kazakhstan, Thailand, and South Africa — the report found little or no influence on policy.
The report highlights areas for further improvement of such studies and urges balancing the goal of having complete time records using harmonized activity codes with that of reducing survey costs through the use of simpler or focused activity lists; resolving important methodological issues related to measuring unpaid employment and household work; paying attention to social norms and household structures in selecting survey respondents; finding satisfactory solutions to measuring and reporting simultaneous or secondary activities that do not overburden respondents; and considering fielding linked surveys over time.