Time use diaries and the Covid-19 crisis

Prompted by the recent COVID-19 crisis and a corresponding upsurge in interest in time use diary design and data, the CTUR team have been working on a range of projects involving data collection and analysis relevant to understanding patterns of time use behaviour across the waves of the pandemic, and assessing the infection risk associated with these patterns:

1)  The CaDDI (‘click and drag diary’) survey. A sequence of online time-use diary surveys designed to capture daily behaviour throughout the various stages of the pandemic in the UK (4 waves fielded to data in late May-June, August and November 2020, and January 2021) using the same instrument and market research panel as a 2016 time-use survey baseline. A demonstration video for the click-and-drag diary instrument (CaDDI) is provided below (mp4 file).  The 4-wave data is available in the core collection of the UK Data Archive:

2)  A research article published in PLOS ONE (Feb 10th 2021): ‘A new perspective from time use research on the effects of lockdown on COVID-19 behavioral infection risk’. A comparative analysis of UK 2016, May/June and August 2020 survey waves focussing on a combination of social contact, location and activity to indicate risk exposure time prior to the pandemic (2016), during first lockdown (May-June 2020), and following the relaxation of social restrictions in August 2020: https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0245551

We present findings from three waves of a population-representative, UK time-use diary survey conducted both pre- and in real time during full ‘lockdown’, and again following the easing of social restrictions. We used an innovative online diary instrument that has proved both reliable and quick-to-field. Combining diary information on activity, location, and co-presence to estimate infection risks associated with daily behavior, we show clear changes in risk-associated behavior between the pre, full-lockdown and post full-lockdown periods. We document a shift from more to less risky daily behavior patterns (combinations of activity/location/co-presence categories) between the pre-pandemic pattern and full lockdown in May/June 2020, followed by a reversion (although not a complete reversal) of those patterns in August 2020 following the end of the first lockdown. Because, in general, a populations’ time use changes relatively slowly, the behavioral changes revealed may be interpreted as a consequence of the UK COVID-19 lockdown social restrictions and their subsequent relaxation. 

3) A research article in PNAS: ‘Using time use diaries to track changing behavior across successive stages of COVID-19 social restrictions’.  A comparative analysis of the first 4 waves of the data, with focus on a comparison of daily risk-related behaviour during first and second lockdown across age and sex groups. Using the same methodology as for the PLOS ONE article described in (2) above, we find statistically significant differences in population behaviour between 1st and 2nd lockdown.  Holding constant gender, age and social grade, we show that the UK population spent on average 32 more minutes per day in high risk activities in the second UK lockdown in November 2020 than in first lockdown (starting March 2020): https://www.pnas.org/content/118/35/e2101724118  

How did people change their behavior over the different phases of the UK COVID-19 restrictions, and how did these changes affect their risk of being exposed to infection? Time use diary surveys are unique in providing a complete chronicle of daily behavior; 24-hour continuous records of the populations’ activities, their social context and their location. We present results from four such surveys, collected in real time from representative UK samples, both before, and at three points over the course of the current pandemic. Comparing across the four waves, we find evidence of substantial changes in the UK population’s behavior relating to activities, locations and social context. We assign different levels of risk to combinations of activities, locations and copresence, to compare risk-related behavior across successive ‘lockdowns’. We find evidence that during the second lockdown (November 2020) there was an increase in high-risk behaviors relative to the first (starting March 2020). This increase is shown to be associated with more paid work time in the workplace. At a time when capacity is still limited both in respect of immunization and track-trace technology, governments must continue to rely on changes in people’s daily behaviors to contain the spread of COVID-19 and similar viruses. Time use diary information of this type, collected in real time across the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, can provide policy-makers with information to assess and quantify changes in daily behaviors, and the impact they are likely to have on overall behavioral-associated risks.

Below: CaDDI demonstration video:  

Download here: CaDDI demonstration video (mp4 file)