The American Time Use Survey (ATUS), conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, included a Subjective Well-Being (SWB) module in 2010 and 2012; the module, funded by the National Institute on Aging (NIA), is being considered for inclusion in the ATUS for 2013. The National Research Council was asked to evaluate measures of self-reported well-being and offer guidance about their adoption in official government surveys. The charge for the study included an interim report to consider the usefulness of the ATUS SWB module and specifically the value of continuing it for at least one more wave. Among the key points raised in this report are the following:
• Value The ATUS SWB module is the only federal government data source of its kind—linking self-reported information on individuals’ well-being to their activities and time use. Important research has already been conducted using the data (for example, on the effects of unemployment and job search on people’s self-reported well-being), and work conducted with other, similar data sets has indicated the potential of the module to contribute to knowledge that could inform policies in such areas as health care and transportation. While the NRC Panel has not yet concluded its assessment of the policy usefulness of including one or more kinds of self-reported well-being measures on a regular basis in government surveys, it sees a value to continuing the ATUS SWB module in 2013. Not only will another year of data support research, but it will also provide additional information to help refine any SWB measurements that may be added to ongoing official statistics.
• Methodological Benefits A third wave of data collection will enlarge samples by pooling data across years, which will enable more detailed study and comparison than has been possible to date of population subgroups, such as people in a given region and specific demographic groups (e.g., young people, the elderly). Because two new questions—one on overall life satisfaction and one on whether respondents’ reported emotional experiences yesterday were “typical”—were introduced to the module only in 2012, at least one additional wave of the survey is needed to assess changes in responses to those questions over time.
• Cost and Effects on the ATUS As a supplement to an existing survey, the marginal cost of the module, which adds about 5 minutes to the ATUS, is small. While further study of the module’s effects on response and bias in the main ATUS should be undertaken, it appears likely that these effects are modest because the module comes at the end of the survey after people have already been asked to report their activities for the preceding day.
• New Opportunities A third wave of the survey could also be used for experiments to improve the survey structure, should the module become permanent. The ATUS SWB module could be the basis for a standardized set of questions that could be added to other surveys which, together, might provide useful information about the causes and consequences of self-reported well-being in the general population.