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close this bookResearch Methods in Nutritional Anthropology (United Nations University, 1989, 201 p.)
close this folder4. The relevance of time-allocation analyses nutritional anthropology: The relationship of time and household organization to nutrient intake and status
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentIntroduction
Open this folder and view contentsMethods of data collection
View the documentProcessing and interpreting data
View the documentProcedures for collecting and analysing time-activity data efficiently and effectively
View the documentConclusions
View the documentReferences
View the documentAppendix 1. Messer, mitla field notes, 4 September 1980

Processing and interpreting data

No matter which recording method or combination of methods is chosen, all entail common problems of processing and interpreting data. Investigators must be sure to collect sufficient information on the various kinds of households and individuals of nutritional interest. They must also be sure to collect data in time and activity categories that will ensure accurate presentation of significant variations within communities or between different societies. Four topics important for analysis and interpretation of time-use data are (a) social units, (b) activity categories, (c) cultural units of time, and (d) cultural time sense.

Social Units

General procedures for selecting communities and sampling within them have been addressed in the chapter by P. Pelto in this volume. For studies of time allocation, the community usually has some social or economic characteristics of particular interest to the investigator and is not selected at random within the region or nation. Within the population, households may be selected by some random principle, such as random numbers table; all households within a certain distance from the researcher; or every fourth household. Household selection may also be done on the basis of certain characteristics, such occupation, social status, or the presence of one or more children of particular age. In addition, given the intrusiveness and difficulties presented by time-allocation studies, households are selected in terms of their co-operativeness.

In selecting characteristics and categories for meaningful comparisons between households, it is important to consider not only cross-cultural comparability but also categories that are culturally significant in the society under study.

For example, to compare activity patterns meaningfully among women in African lineage systems, stages in the woman's life-cycle (e.g. having no children, having one or more children under six, having one or more married sons, being a widow) may be more significant than chronological age (Hemmings-Gapihan, 1981). Household samples may also be stratified along other relevant dimensions such as adult occupations that affect their presence/absence in the household, the presence of other adults or older children available to help with child care, and numbers and ages of children. For example, Quizon-King (1978) divided her sample into three family types by size, numbers of children, and father's occupations. In societies with sex/age grades, or in which specific ages are deemed appropriate to take on work, special attention should be paid to selecting these cultural categories, particularly in the observation of children's activities. For studies of women's activities in relation to child care, the age of the youngest child and the availability of surrogate mothers may form significant dimensions. For evaluating children's contributions to household work and income, numbers of siblings per household or per child may be relevant (Nag, White, and Peet., 1978).

Activity Categories

An additional concern is to establish categories of analysis that are both culturally complete and cross-culturally analysable. Categories should be chosen only after collecting several rounds of initial data in the field; even then, the categories may have to be amended. The list should include a careful breakdown of cash and home chores highly specific to the occupational life of the community, for purposes of within-culture comparisons. One can then try to combine these into a few cross-culturally valid general categories such as work outside the house, work inside the house, and leisure (Erasmus, 1955), or food acquisition, manufacture, and preparation, childrearing, eating, hygiene, and visiting/idle (Johnson, 1975). Several examples of activity categories and data tabulations are provided in tables 4-6. Special considerations, as mentioned earlier, must apply to the choice of categories to record children's activities and social interactions (e.g. resting, stimulus-seeking, stimulus-receiving) or aspects of child care (e.g. distance of child from mother or surrogate mother).

If computer programmes are to be used to aid in the analysis, precoding daily activities and entering precoded calculations as they are recorded is advisable. Whether data are collected by observation, recall, or diary records, they should be processed into culturally appropriate and cross-cultural (general) categories simultaneously with or immediately following collection, so that any problems in analysis or interpretation can be checked. Time must be written into the research schedule for this activity.

When daily activities are being tabulated, it is necessary to be consistent in counting time allocated to multiple tasks performed simultaneously. For example, in counting time allocated to child care, a useful distinction can be made between "primary'' child care (no other activities involved), and "secondary" child care, carried out simultaneously with other activities such as food preparation. Also, care of infants may be distinguished from care of older children. For studies of women's or children's work, one might want to collect quasi-experimental data to compare the rate of task performance with and without the simultaneous burden of child care. For a study of the "cost of children," one might want detailed information on how children of different age categories are cared for. Time allocated to household production can be construed to include time spent getting to and from locations of food acquisition, or, alternatively, travel time may be accounted for separately.

Finally, decisions must also be made on how to classify ambiguous activities in cross-cultural comparisons of time spent working. Erasmus's example (1955) of eating as female "work," in contrast to male leisure activity in Mayo society, and Minge-Klevana's example of children tending cows as "leisure," cited above, illustrate problems of classification. Moreover, in many societies it is difficult to disentangle "socializing" from time spent "working." (A good discussion of the problem of counting household "work" is contained in Minge-Klevana, 1980).

Units of Time

Time units used by the people under study to arrange their activities are a third factor to keep in mind when processing and interpreting time-activity data. Daily activities may be patterned according to the prevailing daylight hours and relative heat or cold. For example, in cultures without electricity, most productive work will probably take place before nightfall and after sunrise. However, in cultures with sources of artificial lighting, particularly those practicing some sort of cottage industry in the home, a significant amount of production may take place in the evening, particularly by women who work mainly after the children are asleep. Seasonal shifts in work hours may occur depending on the prevailing heat of the day. For example, the very early and very late daylight hours are devoted to work during the hot, dry season in the Middle East. To accurately describe time use in such situations, one will probably want to calculate separately the work patterns in the different seasons; averages are less useful in evaluating how people work in relation to their food supply.

Ritual and market cycles will also have to be taken into account at the initial stage of data collection and in the analysis and interpretation of results. White, for example. analysing the work input of Javanese children in 20 households, visited each household every sixth day so as to coincide neither with the five-day market cycle nor the seven-day administrative week (Nag, White, and Peet, 197X). In cultures where people pace activities according to the market cycle, one may want to consider production and selling periods in evaluating variance in activities over different days of the market "week." For example, in Messer's field-work in Mexico, people weaving and sewing goods for delivery to a middleman might work in ten-day cycles. The two days before the pick-up are extended, frenetic workdays, and the days after the goods have been picked up are periods of relative "rest."

While economists and nutritionists seem to prefer "average" figures in constructing time budgets and activity schedules, it is important to realize that time is used differently on different days. It is, therefore, important to calculate the significance of such different days and of such differences in determining average schedules or noting variance. Records of such pacing in human energy expenditure and energy intake may provide data of interest for addressing current controversies about the great variability in work ability and caloric needs. In poor, traditional Jewish communities, collecting intake and activity data on the Sabbath would skew results upward for nutrient intake, downward for work; yet missing the Sabbath entirely would not fully account for weekly nutrient intakes or regeneration of work, as well as spiritual, energies. Similar examples can be cited for most cultures.

In assessing the relationships between patterns of consumption and work, then, records of such variations should help qualitatively, if not quantitatively, to identify the significance of such patterns. Additional factors to be considered in presenting and analysing time-activity data are: (a) seasonal work demands, such as the extraordinary time demands on women agriculturalists during peak planting and harvesting seasons which often interfere with food preparation and child care; (b) children's school schedules, which may conflict with the ordinary family eating schedules and thereby jeopardize adequate food intake and health status; and (e) religious holidays, often whole seasons, which alter ordinary work and food-intake patterns.

Ethnographic Interview

It is advisable to carry out ethnographic field research prior to the systematic activity observations, and such ethnographic observations should continue throughout the research period. To supplement other data on activity and cultural schedules throughout the year, one will want to collect information on the following qualitative features of cultural time sense, as research abilities and research time permit: normal or preferred allocations of time; spacing and pacing of activities; and judgements of efficiency. Useful questions may be: What are the ranges of time usually allotted to specific tasks? What characteristics of individuals or technology improve or decrease efficiency of performance? Do people have notions of how long it should take to perform typical tasks, i.e. do they have this notion of "time sense"? Do they have standards that they apply informally to people in their culture about performance in time? Do they have ideas of rushed versus leisurely pacing, and do they relate their own endurance in the performance of certain tasks to nutritional or health status? Do they associate food intake directly with work, work performance, and degree of weariness in performing tasks and health status? Such information from the cultural or folk perspective may also contribute to evaluation and interpretation of intra-household distribution of food, work performance, and the relationship between nutrient intake and infection from the scientific perspective.