Time use in the NetherlandsEdition 1

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Background of the Time Use Survey

Author: Anne Roeters

Changing times?

The past decade has been characterized by many societal changes. The Dutch economy fell into a crisis and recovered again. Politicians and policymakers changed tack by aiming for a ‘participation society’: a society in which citizens participate in paid employment, lifelong learning, volunteering, local decision-making and informal care (Putters, 2015) – and all this at a time when worries about time pressure are abound (Kervezee 2015; Velde 2015; Vrij Nederland 2015). This publication investigates whether these changes are reflected in the time use of 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 for leisure?

A 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 which was their main activity at each given time interval. Unless stated otherwise, the data relate to all Dutch citizens aged 12 years and older, including those who did not spend any time on the activity in question. Most of the tables report the average time use across the whole week. Respondents who did not make diary entries on all seven days have been left out of consideration in these figures.

Background to the study

Since 1975, the SCP has used the Time Use Survey as a means to describe the daily life of the Dutch. Every five years, a sample of the Dutch population is asked to and record their time use in a 'time diary', during one week. These data have been reported in several reports.

Since 2011, the SCP collected the data in collaboration with Statistics Netherlands (CBS). In 2006, the fieldwork was performed by Social data BV.

Diary data are a rich source of information because they provide an insight into who does what, when and with whom. We assume that diary data are not, or minimally, biased by social desirability because respondents report their actual behaviour and do not estimate how much time they spend on different activities (Gershuny 2003; Sayer 2005).

In this card stack we analysed 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. Between 1975 and 2005, a slightly different method was used (Kamphuis et al. 2009), so in this card stack we decided not to go back further than 2006. In the next time use report (which will be published in 2018), we will look further back in time.

Significance testing

This card compares years, men and women, people with high and low educational levels and different age groups and family types. When interpreting these differences, it is important to consider the ‘statistical significance’ of these differences. Differences may also be attributed to chance, for example because the difference is small or there is a lot of uncertainty. Where we say something about differences, these have proved to be significant unless stated otherwise.

Categorization of the activities

The respondents in the study reported their activities in their own words. Afterwords, coders of the CBS assigned activity codes to these activities. For the analyses in this card stack, these activity codes were grouped together (See the code lists (in Dutch). For example, sports activities were categorized as leisure. To some extent, the categorization of individual activities is arbitrary. Eating an evening meal at home, for example, is categorised as personal care here, whereas it could also be categorised as leisure or even as parent-child time when family members are present (Mandemakers & Roeters 2014). The categorisation of the activities is based on the literature. But as that literature develops in line with advancing insights, and the nature of the activities changes, it was decided when devising the new classification to deviate on some points from the classification used in earlier SCP reports.

For example, construction and repairs is no longer categorised under leisure, but as housework. As a direct consequence of this, the gender differences in both leisure and family care are smaller than before.

Time-use diaries

The Time Use Survey combines a ‘time diary’ with a questionnaire. Each respondent received a diary in which he or she 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 report 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. See the code lists (in Dutch).

Supplementary to this, the respondents also answered questions from two questionnaires, completing the first questionnaire at the start of the diary week and the second at the end. The questionnaires provided us with information on aspects such as the socio-demographic background characteristics, perceived quality of life, opinions and job characteristics of respondents.

Sampling and fieldwork

Statistics Netherlands (CBS) drew a sample from all persons who were registered as residents of the Netherlands in the Personal Records Database and who were aged 10 years or older (the 10 and 11 year-olds were excluded from the analyses in this card stack). People living in institutions or residential nursing or care homes were excluded from the sample. As the data were 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 proportionate to the number of residents. This step guaranteed a regional distribution. In the second step, a random sample was drawn within each municipality.

The CBS interviewers visited the homes of potential respondents. If these persons were prepared to take part, the "Start-questionnaire" was completed at that moment. 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 "End questionnaire" completed. The initial invitation letter contained a gift voucher for 5 euros. When respondents completed the diary, they received a further gift voucher worth 10 euros.

The "Start 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; this means 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 final analyses 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 biases, weights were use in the analyses.


Bijl, R., J. Boelhouwer & A. Wennekers (eds.) (2017). Social State of the Netherlands 2017. The Hague: Netherlands Institute for Social Research (Sociaal en Cultureel Planbureau).

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 (Sociaal en Cultureel Planbureau).

Cloïn, M. (ed.) (2013). Met het oog op de tijd. Een blik op de tijdsbesteding van Nederlanders. The Hague: Netherlands Institute for Social Research (Sociaal en Cultureel Planbureau).

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

Kervezee, L. (2015). We hebben het druk druk. Maar het is oké om nee te zeggen. Accessed on 9 December 2017 at https://www.nrc.nl/nieuws/2015/10/10/we-hebben-het-druk-druk-druk- maar-het-is-oke-om-n-1543234-a1147657.

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, pp. 491-494.

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.

Velde, F. van de (2015). Hoezo druk? Steeds meer mensen klagen dat ze het te druk hebben. Werk, kinderen, bejaarde ouders en vrienden slokken al hun tijd op. Ze hebben het gevoel enorm tekort te schieten. Nergens voor nodig. Want een druk leven leiden én ervan genieten kan. In: Elsevier Weekblad, 21 November 2015.

Vrij Nederland (2015). Waarom steeds meer mensen ‘druk druk druk’ zijn (Vrij Nederland). Accessed on 9 December 2017 at https://www.vn.nl/waarom-steeds-meer-mensen-druk- druk-druk-zijn/.

Cite this card

Roeters, A. (2017). Background of the Time Use Survey. In: Time use in the Netherlands: Edition 1. Retrieved [datum vandaag] from https://digital.scp.nl/timeuse1/background-of-the-time-use-survey.

Information notes

The most recent (2017) edition of "Social state of the Netherlands" (Bijl et al. 2017) and the most recent Time Use report ‘Met het oog op de tijd’ (‘With an eye on the time’) (Cloïn 2013).