Quality & Quantity 33: 277–289, 1999.
© 1999 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.
Time Budgets, Life Histories and Social Position
Institute for Social and Economic Research, University of Essex, Colchester CO4 3SQ, U.K.
tel.: +44 (0)1206 872734; fax: +44 (0)1206 873151; e-mail: email@example.com
Abstract. This paper falls into two parts. It has an initial brief theoretical discussion of the use of
well structured short- and long-term narrative accounts of individuals’ life experiences (respectively
time-diary and work/life histories) in establishing the extent of their personal resources, and hence,
ultimately, their social position. The second section discusses the development of a new social-
positional indicator (currently called the Interim Essex Score or IES), and illustrates its use in an
investigation of the consequences of women’s career breaks on their subsequent levels of access to
Key words: social structure, narrative data, women’s career attainment.
1. Narrative Data
There are two sorts of narrative accounts of of our past behaviour, long-term and
short-term, which have a number of characteristics in common. They both consist
of sequences of events, which are placed in order and can be placed approximately
in time, by narrators who, having experienced the events themselves are competent
to answer such questions. We all become to some degree skilled narrators of our
own stories: so these narratives are important sociological resources.
Social statisticians now often collect quite large and nationally representative
samples of such narratives. The longer-term ones are called variously work his-
tories (if they deal with employment issues), life histories if they deal with other
sorts of events (marital or fertility for example). The shorter term narratives are
simply the diaries used in time budget analysis. Both the event histories and the
time diaries are organised in the same way, either as a ‘repeating structure’of
events each with a start date/time, one or more activity characteristics, and then
either a duration or a ﬁnish time (though this third may be redundant if the start
of the next event marks the termination of the present one) or as a ﬁxed interval
‘calendar’ of states, conditions or activities. And both sorts of narrative can be
analysed using the same sorts of descriptive and modelling procedures.
I will argue, that narratives are a very important source of sociological informa-
tion, which will take a key place in the development of a new sort of account of
change in social structure. Of course longitudinal data are already quite widely used
in studies of social mobility – but what I have in mind is an altogether much more