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Beyond the Market: Designing Nonmarket Accounts for the United States
ior. It might be valuable to have a one-time survey, perhaps for a sample of households that had previously responded to the Consumer Expenditure Survey, that would provide time budgets and consumer expenditure information for the same people.
The ATUS is not perfect for purposes of constructing nonmarket accounts: it could not be, given budget constraints and the conceptual and measurement difficulties inherent in obtaining time-budget data. We understand that there were good operational reasons for the decisions made in designing the ATUS. There was evidence, for example, that, had the survey been designed to collect time-use information from multiple members of responding household on a particular day, survey response rates would have been much lower. Similarly, testing carried out during the development period raised serious concern that probing systematically for secondary activities in which respondents might have been engaged would have greatly increased the perceived survey response burden and thus adversely affected response rates. And BLS is well aware of the potential for nonresponse bias and has planned research to assess its significance. Still, as work proceeds on the ATUS and on time-use data collection more generally, the limitations and potential biases in the data currently being collected for nonmarket accounting purposes should be kept in mind, and efforts to improve the data pursued.
The criticisms of this section notwithstanding, the ATUS is a tremendous step forward for the federal statistical system. Indeed, without something like the ATUS, one could not seriously contemplate the creation of nonmarket accounts for the United States.
Time-use and demographic data must be combined to provide a firm foundation for nonmarket accounts. Time-use data can be used to answer questions about what individuals with given characteristics are doing with their time; demographic data describe the distribution of these individual characteristics in the population. Time use varies significantly across population subgroups. For example, in general, individuals with young children have less time for certain activities (e.g., traveling, work, going out at night) than adults without children. In addition, the value of time spent may vary with an individual’s characteristics. A higher value may be placed on time spent completing 4 years of college than on time spent completing 4 years of high school, for example, because of the greater value of forgone earnings for someone who already has completed high school. Detailed demographic data are needed to estimate differences in time allocation patterns across various socioeconomic subgroups of the population.
There are several reasons that a comprehensive demographic database is not available for the United States. First, in our decentralized statistical system, agencies commonly specialize in producing certain types of data, and these efforts typically are not coordinated. For example, the National Center for Education