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Approaching the female labor supply from the unpaid work and non-work functions: Time-use diary evidence from Britain, 1998-9

Pródromos-Ioánnis K. Prodromídis (Centre for Planning and Economic Research (KEPE), Athens, Greece)

International Journal of Manpower

ISSN: 0143-7720

Article publication date: 29 July 2014




The purpose of this paper is to study the allocation of time to paid work, unpaid work and non-work by women in Britain in 1998-1999. To infer the labor supply from the other time-use expressions.


The paper uses weekly diary data to estimate the unpaid work and non-work functions. It infers the (residual) paid work expression. As the latter is recovered from uncensored regressions, it makes direct use of the complete set of observations. Hence, it contains more information than the conventional labor supply functions that are estimated from the data obtained from paid work participants via the Tobit and Heckit or selection-bias correction (SBC) techniques.


The women surveyed generally allocated 69 percent of their time toward non-work, 18 percent to unpaid work, and 13 percent to paid work. The non-work function is dominated by the autonomous component, and all three functions depend on subjects’ age, wage, non-labor income, household composition, the unpaid work contributions of adult relatives and region of residence. The unpaid work and non-work functions are more consistent with the SBC rather than the Tobit version of the labor supply. Moreover, the Tobit predicts unrealistic paid work allocations for women engaging in very little non-work.

Research limitations/implications

The unpaid work and non-work functions are regressed separately, as often the case in the literature. Their consideration within a seemingly unrelated regression framework necessitates a reduction in the number of observations to match those considered in the Tobit and SBC versions of the labor supply. Nuances may arise when the time reported in the diaries does not add up to 24 daily hours for all respondents. Knowledge of the recovered regional, age, household member and other effects on women time allocation might had come handy to economic development authorities who sought to attract women out of the household into market production, and from part-time to full-time employment in the context of the 2000-2010 Lisbon Strategy. Similar lessons may be valid today.


The data set derives from a survey that has not been used before. It relies on week-long diaries in order to avoid the occurrence of many zeros in a good number of activities (which is the norm in short diaries), and to ensure the study of a censored time-use function through its uncensored complements. The findings are compared to those of a weekly diary survey conducted in 1987 that solicited similar information. Hence, the study fills a gap in time-use analysis. Identifying the factors which influence the number of hours that women engage in work (both paid and unpaid) and non-work is useful for economic policy purposes. The study exposes a limitation in the conventional estimation of the labor supply which, in turn, casts doubt on the reliability of empirical results for policy making.



The author indebted to Timothy Hatton, Jonathan Gershuny, Daniel Hamermesh, Alastair McAuley, Shirley Dex, the participants of the 15th Annual Conference of the European Association of Labor Economists, two anonymous referees, and the editor for useful comments made to earlier versions of the paper. The financial support from the A. S. Onassis Public Benefit Foundation is greatly appreciated. The usual disclaimer applies.


K. Prodromídis, P.-I. (2014), "Approaching the female labor supply from the unpaid work and non-work functions: Time-use diary evidence from Britain, 1998-9", International Journal of Manpower, Vol. 35 No. 5, pp. 643-670.



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