National Time Accounting: The Currency of Life


This monograph proposes a new approach for measuring features of society’s subjective
well-being, based on time allocation and affective experience. We call this approach
National Time Accounting (NTA). National Time Accounting is a set of methods for
measuring, comparing and analyzing how people spend and experience their time --
across countries, over historical time, or between groups of people within a country at a
given time. The approach is based on evaluated time use, or the flow of emotional
experience during daily activities. After reviewing evidence on the validity of subjective
well-being measures, we present and evaluate diary-based survey techniques designed to
measure individuals’ emotional experiences and time use. We illustrate NTA with: (1) a
new cross-sectional survey on time use and emotional experience for a representative
sample of 4,000 Americans; (2) historical data on the amount of time devoted to various
activities in the United States since 1965; and (3) a comparison of time use and wellbeing
in the United States and France. In our applications, we focus mainly on the Uindex,
a measure of the percentage of time that people spend in an unpleasant state,
defined as an instance in which the most intense emotion is a negative one. The U-index
helps to overcome some of the limitations of interpersonal comparisons of subjective
well-being. National Time Accounting strikes us as a fertile area for future research
because of advances in subjective measurement and because time use data are now
regularly collected in many countries.

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