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Secondary activity

Codes and Frequencies

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SEC is a 69 category coding scheme for secondary activities (activities done at the same time as a primary activity (see MAIN). A value of -9 indicates that there was no secondary activity reported.

Note that simultaneous activities do not necessarily sum to 1440, nor should the user attempt to do so.

While people may undertake more than one activity at the same time (such as driving while listening to the radio), the surveys harmonized here have highly variant instructions about the degree of detail respondents should try to capture in the recording of secondary activities. Also, the degree of commitment implied by different combinations of activities is not the same.

Users of time use data should consider the nature of their analytic needs in deciding whether and how to include secondary activities. In some cases, some combinations of simultaneous activities will count as new activities added to the instances of singular or focused activity, and the total time spent in the day across this expanded and customized list of activities should total 1440 minutes. Which secondary activity combinations are relevant will vary by the focus of the research. The secondary activities are coded using the 69 category list also used to code main activities.

In some diary surveys, diarists were able to report more than one secondary activity. Where this occurs (for example, UK 1987), the episode was split into sub-episodes that total to the same length of the original episode, one new episode for each reported secondary activity. In these cases, the main activity was coded and context information as applying across all elements of the split episode, except where there is a clear transition to travel. Users can identify these cases as these sub episodes have the same value for the variable CLOCKST, while all un-split episodes have different values for CLOCKST (the start time of the episode on the clock).

Comparability — Index

United States


Users should note the specific way in which information about secondary activities is collected in the US.

Comparability — United States [top]

Eating and drinking as a secondary activity is included in the US (2006-2008), but is not asked in the way most time use surveys ask about secondary activities. Participants were asked if they drank anything other than water or ate during each activity. If participants answered yes to either, they then were asked how long during that episode they spent eating, and separately how long they spent drinking. The sum of these two reported times sometimes exceeds the total minutes of the episode, which means that some secondary eating overlapped with some secondary drinking. Where the sum of secondary eating and drinking time equaled or exceeded the episode length, the participant did not report a child being in their care, and there was no instance of unreported short duration travel, we code secondary eating and drinking for the entire episode.

Where reported minutes in secondary eating/drinking are less than the total time of the episode, we divide the episode into three segments. We put the secondary eating/drinking time in the middle of the episode. If the number of minutes left after deducting secondary eating/drinking time is not an even number, we make a full minute rounding and put the longer sub-episode at the beginning. Otherwise we truncate on an even minute.

In cases where the participant did not report a main activity but did report secondary eating/drinking and the participant indicated being at home, if the secondary eating episode is between social activities, we add in home social as a main activity. In other instances at home, we add imputed personal and household care as the main activity.

For the limited number of episodes where the diarist must have travelled during a short trip to change location and reported secondary eating and drinking, we create two episodes, the first with secondary eating/drinking and the second with travel by unreported means. Where the total episode length is less than 20 minutes, we set the secondary travel to 2 minutes duration, and the remainder to secondary eating. Where the episode lasted 20 minutes or more, we set the secondary travel to 10 minutes.

Where participants reported that a child was in their care and that they engaged in secondary eating or drinking (in these instances, the secondary eating and drinking equals the total episode time), we split the episode into three segments. We put the secondary eating/drinking in the middle sub-episode and set this sub-episode equal to half the total time of the original episode. We then set the first and third sub-episodes to 25% of the time of the original episode, and code these sub-episodes as including time when a child was under the participant's care. We made this decision as people face limits to the number of things on which they can concentrate at one time, and so that participants can identify this pattern in the data and construct their own alternative secondary care variable should they wish to do so. See the syntax files that created the harmonized files for more details.

In 2011 and 2012 the respondents were asked whether they provide secondary elderly care. When both secondary childcare and secondary eldercare are reported simultaneously we coded these as secondary elderly care.


  • All activities.


  • Austria: 1992
  • Bulgaria: 2001
  • Canada: 2010
  • Finland: 1979, 2009
  • France: 1985, 1998, 2009
  • Hungary: 1999, 2009
  • Israel: 1991
  • Italy: 2002
  • Netherlands: 1975, 1980, 1985, 1995, 2000, 2005
  • South Africa: 2000
  • Spain: 2002, 2009
  • United Kingdom: 1974, 1983, 1987, 1995, 2000, 2005, 2014
  • United States: 1965, 1975, 1985, 1993, 1995, 1998, 2003-2015