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A Day in the Life Course: Demonstrating a Network Approach to Studying the Social Structure of Time

WHERE: Knox Hall, Room 509

TIME: 12:00 - 2:00 pm

The dominant approach to studying action as it unfolds over the course of the 24-hour day is the analysis of time use or time allocation. This paper describes a new approach, which treats individuals’ involvement in specific activities at specific times as bases for: (1) sequential linkages between activities; and (2) connections to others who engage in similar action sequences. This implies the use of network techniques for the analysis of time-stamped data. I illustrate this approach with a quantitative and visual comparison of the daily activity patterns of individuals in different age groups, using roughly 40,000 24-hour time diaries from the 2003-2013 American Time Use Surveys. As conventional time-use analyses show, daily activity patterns vary by age. But my analyses reveal that age is also related to the temporal patterning of activity sequences, rates of transition between activities, and connectedness to others who engage in similar activity sequences. One interesting finding along these lines is that older adults achieve a higher degree of synchrony with the general population than do younger adults, which challenges widespread assumptions about how age affects the structure of everyday activity. I conclude by discussing how this method can advance research on time use.

Benjamin Cornwell’s research focuses on the implications of socially networked and sequenced social processes for individuals and organizations – and, in particular, how such processes shape social stratification. He has documented the role of social network structure in a wide variety of processes, including the sale of drugs, risky sexual practices, sexual health, health, access to valuable resources like credit and expertise, and the decline of unions. His most recent work on social sequence analysis demonstrates how the ordering of social phenomena affects a variety of phenomena includingthe stress process and the creation of social networks themselves.