Time use in the NetherlandsEdition 2

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About the Time Use Survey

Author: Anne Roeters

Changing times?

A lot has happened in the last decade. The Netherlands fell into an economic crisis and clawed its way out again. Politicians and policymakers changed tack by focusing on creating a ‘participation society’: a society whose members are expected more than ever to participate in employment, lifelong learning, volunteering and meetings, local decision-making and caring for relatives, friends and neighbours who need help (Putters 2015), and to do so despite there seeming to be more worries than ever about time pressure (Roeters 2018). This publication investigates whether these changes are reflected in time use by the Dutch. Do the Dutch spend more time working and providing care than in the past? Are we heading towards a 24/7 society in which we work and care around the clock? And how much time is left over for relaxation and resting?

Brief guide to the cards and figures

The data relate to people’s main activities. Participants in the study kept a time-use diary for one week, in which they were asked to indicate what their main activity was in each given time interval. Unless stated otherwise, the data relate to all Dutch people aged 12 and older, including those who did not spend any time on the activity in question. Most of the tables report the average time use over the whole week. Data from respondents who did not make diary entries on all seven days have not been included in these figures. Therefore, it is possible that we have left out precisely those people who are busiest.

Background to the study

SCP has been describing the time use of the Dutch in the Time Use Survey since 1975. Every five years, we ask a large group of Dutch to keep a diary recording their time use for one week. These data have been reported in several reports. Since 2011, we have carried out the Time Use Survey in collaboration with Statistics Netherlands (CBS). In 2006, the fieldwork was performed by Social data BV (Breedveld et al. 2006).

Diary data are a rich source of information because it provides an insight into who does what when. Generally speaking, we assume that diary data are not distorted by socially desirable responses, or are only distorted to a minimal extent, because people are recording their actual behaviour and not making their own subjective assessment of how much time they spend on different activities (Gershuny 2003; Sayer 2005).

In this card stack, we are presenting the most recent time use data, which were collected throughout 2016. We also look back at the two previous editions of the survey, from 2006 and 2011. In 2006, a slightly different method was used (Kamphuis et al. 2009) and in this card stack we therefore decided not to go back further than 2006. In the Time Use Survey, we look back a little further.

Differences over time and between groups: random chance or not?

This card stack is full of comparisons: between years, between men and women, between people with high and low levels of education and between people of different ages and phases of life. When interpreting these differences, it is important to look at their ‘statistical significance’. If the average time use of group A is higher than that of group B, this does not of itself mean that this difference can be assumed to be significant: differences may also be due to random chance, for example, because the averages are close to each other or because the estimate is hedged in by lots of uncertainty. For this reason, we apply statistical techniques to test the most substantively interesting comparisons. Where we say something about differences, these have proved to be significant unless stated otherwise.

Classification of activities

The classification of individual activities under headings such as ‘personal care’ and ‘household’ is to some extent arbitrary. Eating an evening meal at home, for example, is classed as personal care here, whereas if it is eaten in the company of others this could also be classed as leisure or even as parent-child time (Mandemakers & Roeters 2014). As far as possible, the classification of the activities is based on the scientific literature. Since that literature develops in line with advancing insights (see for example Bianchi et al. 2012), it was decided, when devising the new classification, to deviate on some points from the classification used in earlier SCP reports. Doing odd jobs around the home, looking after pets and informal help to other households was for instance still classified as leisure time in the Social State of the Netherlands in 2017, whereas in this publication it is classed as looking after the household and family care. For the same reason, the figures in this edition vary somewhat from the first edition of the card stack (which was published in December 2017).

Time-use diaries

The Time Use Survey combines a ‘time diary’ with a questionnaire. Each respondent received a diary in which they recorded their time use. Respondents wrote down in their own words what they were doing during each time interval in the diary week. They were asked to record the most important activity (‘main activity’) and any other activities they were doing at the same time (‘secondary activity’). For each activity, they were asked to say where they were, whether they were alone or in the company of someone they knew. Coders from Statistics Netherlands (CBS) went through the diaries and assigned an appropriate code from a code list to each activity. Click here to view the list of codes. The respondents also answered questions in two supplementary questionnaires, completing the first questionnaire at the start of the diary week and the second at the end. The questionnaires provided us with information about aspects such as the sociodemographic background characteristics, perceived quality of life, opinions and job characteristics of respondents.

Sampling and fieldwork

Statistics Netherlands (CBS) drew a sample from all people who were registered as residents of the Netherlands in the Personal Records Database and who were aged 10 or older (the figures for 10 and 11-year-olds are not included in this card stack). People living in institutions or residential nursing or care homes were not approached to take part. Because the data were being collected throughout 2016, a new sample was drawn each month. This was a two-step process. In the first step, a number of municipalities were selected within each region of the Netherlands. The chance that a municipality would be selected was proportional to the number of residents. This step guaranteed a regional distribution. In the second step, a random sample was drawn within each municipality.

The interviewers from Statistics Netherlands visited the homes of potential respondents. If these people were prepared to take part, the initial questionnaire was completed there and then. Respondents were also asked if they were willing to record their activities in the diary. At the end of the diary week, the interviewer called on the respondent again. During this visit, the diary was checked and the final questionnaire completed. The initial invitation letter contained a gift voucher for 5 euros. When respondents were recruited to complete the diary, they received a further gift voucher worth 10 euros.

The initial questionnaire was completed by 2,757 people, equivalent to a response rate of 52.9%. Some people did drop out during the subsequent steps, however. The diaries of 2,260 respondents were approved; meaning that they had correctly completed at least one working day and at least one weekend day in the diaries. For this card stack, we only selected respondents who had completed the diaries for a full week. As a consequence, the ultimate analyses for 2016 were based on 1,841 respondents. In the final sample, young people, older people and households with higher incomes and cohabiting partners were overrepresented. To correct for any distortions, weightings were applied in the analyses.


Breedveld, K., A. van der Broek, J. de Haan, L. Harms, F. Huysmans & E. van Ingen (2006). De tijd als spiegel. Hoe Nederlanders hun tijd besteden. The Hague: Netherlands Institute for Social Research (SCP).

Cloïn, M. (red.) (2013). Met het oog op de tijd. Een blik op de tijdsbesteding van Nederlanders. The Hague: Netherlands Institute for Social Research (SCP).

Gershuny, J. (2003). Changing times: Work and leisure in postindustrial society. Oxford: Oxford University Press on Demand.

Kamphuis, C., R. van den Dool, A. van den Broek, I. Stoop, P. Adelaar & J. de Haan (2009). TBO/eu en TBO/nl. Een vergelijking van twee methoden van tijdbestedingsonderzoek. The Hague: Netherlands Institute for Social Research (SCP).

Mandemakers, J.J. & A. Roeters (2014). Fast or slow food? Explaining trends in food-related time in the Netherlands, 1975-2005. In: Acta Sociologica, vol. 58, no. 2, pp. 121-137 (10.1177/0001699314560615).

Putters, K. (2015). Zinvolle participatie. In: Tijdschrift voor Arbeidsvraagstukken, vol. 31, no. 4, pp. 491-494.

Roeters, A. (2018). Alle ballen in de lucht. Tijdsbesteding in Nederland en de samenhang met kwaliteit van leven. The Hague: Netherlands Institute for Social Research (SCP).

Sayer, L.C. (2005). Gender, time and inequality: Trends in women's and men's paid work, unpaid work and free time. In: Social Forces, vol. 84, no. 1, pp. 285-303.

Cite this card

Roeters, A. (2019). About the Time Use Survey. In: Time use in the Netherlands: Edition 2. Retrieved [datum vandaag] from https://digital.scp.nl/timeuse2/about-the-time-use-survey.

Information notes