Research Focus: Studying Daily Life

12 January 2016

Killian Mullan is a Post-Doctoral Research Fellow at the Department of Sociology/Centre for Time Use Research as well as a Research Member of Common Room at Kellogg College. In this blog post, Killian writes about his latest research.

Studying daily life: Adventures in time use research at the University of Oxford

It is strange to think that the seemingly mundane ways we spend our time on a daily basis might lie at the core of some of the biggest policy questions confronting our society. Yet, it is also entirely unsurprising once you consider it. Understanding more about the time we spend in paid work, domestic work and care, and the time we spend in different leisure activities provides key insights into a range of pressing social issues including work-life balance, gender equality, public health, population aging, and the development of our children and young people.

I work at the Centre for Time Use Research (CTUR) in the Department of Sociology, with core funding from ESRC as a Research Centre and an Advance Grant from the European Research Council. Working with a diverse team of researchers led by Professors Jonathan Gershuny and Oriel Sullivan, we pursue a broad range of time use research interests touching on many of these social issues.

We analyse data collected with specially designed time-diaries where individuals record information about their activities, their location, and who they were with, throughout a given day. CTUR is the largest repository of such data in the world, and is a global leader in harmonising time use data from different countries and across time, and in using these data to address a range of research questions in social science. In this blog-post, I provide a very brief overview of just some of the research being conducted at CTUR.

One of the major strengths of time use data is the insight it provides into the time individuals spend in domestic work, child and adult care. These activities ensure the health and wellbeing of those in society who need care, and are necessary to maintain a reasonable standard of living for all.

It should not be surprising therefore, that average time spent in these unpaid work activities is on a par with average time spent in paid work, though time in unpaid work is highly gendered with women spending much more time than men in these activities. Researchers at CTUR have been at the forefront in building our knowledge of both trends over time and cross-national differences in the gender division of domestic work and care. This research has shown a reduction in the gender gap in domestic work and care over time across a broad range of developed countries, though a substantial gap persists. In large part this is because though there has been a noticeable decline in some aspects of domestic work (e.g. time cooking) there has been substantial increases in time spent caring for children.

In addition to this research, these data are a primary source for estimating the magnitude of (unpaid) household production, and colleagues at CTUR are working with the Office for National Statistics in efforts to incorporate household production in extended estimates of the value of UK gross national income (GNI).

The time use of younger members of society is also of much interest given strong connections between their time use and developmental outcomes relating to health and education. We are studying change in children and young people’s time use over a period from the mid-70s to the present day, charting patterns in time spent studying, and in different types of leisure activities. In addition, we are using time use data to understand more about young peoples’ transitions to adulthood in different countries.

Researchers at CTUR are seeking also to understand more about the health and wellbeing of older people in society by examining how they spend their time in key activities such as physical activity and socialising. Some of this work is at the forefront in testing new approaches to data collection pairing paper time-diaries with cameras and accelerometers to capture a multidimensional picture of daily life. This work, along with other aspects of work at CTUR, featured in a recent high-profile Nature article.

It is an exciting time for us at CTUR with the forthcoming public release of our new UK Time Use Survey 2015. We are currently working on a volume surveying time use in the UK over a period from the early 60s to the present day, and I look forward to sharing information about that in due course. In the meantime, do not hesitate to get in touch, or visit our website, if you are interested in learning more about our research into the not-so-mundane ways in which we spend our time.

Killian Mullan
Postdoctoral Researcher, Centre for Time Use Research