USDA is one of the pioneers in time use data collection and research. In the 1920s and 1930s, USDA's Bureau of Home Economics sponsored studies of homemakers' use of time on farms and in towns, conducted by home economists at State experiment stations. At USDA headquarters, mail surveys were conducted of alumnae of women's colleges. This research was influenced by the Country Life movement's desire to apply industrial and home economics research and objectives to agriculture and rural life, as well as a desire to apply industrial efficiency models to home production.
Findings from this period include the following:
- About 50 percent of homemaking time was spent on providing food
- Running water and electricity made the greatest difference in reducing time spent on housework
- The number of young children, not the size of household, had the most effect on the number of hours spent in homemaking activities
For more information, see the presentation, USDA's Historical Studies of the Use of Time by Homemakers 16x16 - PDF .
Starting in 1984, ERS has collected time use data in USDA's Agricultural Resource Management Survey (ARMS). Part of the ERS mission is to provide economic statistics about the financial performance of U.S. farms. Since the majority of labor on farms is not paid a wage or salary, a cost must be imputed to these hours in constructing economic statistics. In particular, a cost for unpaid labor is imputed for estimates of commodity cost of production, productivity, and returns to owner's equity in farm capital.
Traditionally, the survey has collected information on hours worked by asking respondents to recall this information for four quarters in the prior calendar year. Although the recall period is long, the results from this data collection method are generally credible and superior to previous methods. To help validate the quality of the data on work hours reported, the time use question in the 2004 ARMS survey instrument was modified to collect additional time use categories that required respondents to account for a 24-hour day. See Decoupled Payments in a Changing Policy Setting for estimates using ARMS time use data.