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Centre for Analytic Criminology


Exploring young people’s exposure to environments and the person-environment interaction – space-time budgets and small area community surveys 

Particularly unique to PADS+, and of particular relevance to its suitability for the analysis of the interaction between people and places, is its innovative combined space-time budget and small-area community survey method which we have designed and implemented to overcome the methodological challenges previously described (for a detailed description of this method see Wikström et al. 2011, and for a prime example of its application see Wikström et al., 2018).

The space–time budget methodology gathers very detailed time diary data about where a participant goes, who he/she spends time with, and what he/she does in a particular (geographical) place at a particular point in time (Figure 1). In PADS+, space-time budget data was collected in each interview detailing hour by hour how the participant spent four days of the previous week (the Friday, Saturday and two weekdays preceding the interview). This method uses hundreds of detailed codes to specify where, when, with whom, and under what circumstances participants take part in settings, as well as episodic data on whether they are involved in risky incidents, commit or are victims of any crimes, use drugs or drink alcohol, etc. Between 60,000 and 70,000 hours of this data were collected in each wave, amounting to more than 500,000 hours of data over the first eight waves. This data can be used to calculate complex measures of exposure because it not only provides detailed information about the circumstances and resulting action at a particular point in time, but can also draw together extensive data about the people present (e.g., from the questionnaire, cognitive tasks and genetic tests) and the place in which they act (e.g., from the small area community survey, census and other land use data).


Figure 1   Example interview form Space-Time Budget (1 day)


The small-area community survey collects data about social environments across the study area, such as levels of social cohesion and informal social control, which are not covered by demographic census data. For both community surveys, we use the smallest geographical unit possible to measure as closely as possible the environments to which people are exposed (so called, output areas with an average of about 300 inhabitants). A random sample of the population aged 18 years and older was surveyed in each of these geographical units to ensure data was available for all parts of the study area.

By linking each hour of the space-time budget to these geographical units (using a special geocode), we are able to characterise the settings participants take part in using community survey as well as census data. Combined, these two data sources give us unique and rich information about people’s differential exposure to key contexts. For example, we can calculate how many hours a participant has spent unsupervised with peers doing unstructured activities in a park in an area with poor collective efficacy, or how many hours a participant has spent at home in a socially advantaged area with his parents on weekends doing homework. Space-time budgets also provide information about the range of settings a person takes part in (is exposed to, i.e., his/her activity field) during a particular period of time (as illustrated in Figure 2).


Figure 2. One person’s activity field for one day



Wikström P-O, Treiber K & Hardie B (2011).Examining the Role of the Environment in Crime Causation: Small Area Community Surveys and Space-Time Budgets. In (Eds)  Messner S., Gadd, D. &  Karsted S. :The SAGE Handbook of Criminological Research Methods.Beverly   Hills. SAGE Publications.

Wikström P-O, Mann R. & Hardie B (2018). Young people’s differential vulnerability to criminogenic exposure: Bridging the gap between people- and place-oriented approaches in the study of crime causation. European Journal of Criminology 15:10-31