Work Ain't What It Used To Be

|

If you're feeling overworked, lay down for a minute, prop your head up with old copies of The Overworked American and Second Shift, and think about just how easy you've got it:

Americans are not, in fact, working as much as they used to. They are just getting paid for more of the work they do. Using several different definitions of leisure, [Univ. of Chicago] Professor [Erik] Hurst and Mark A. Aguiar, an economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, analyzed time-use surveys done from 1965 to 2003. Whether they defined leisure narrowly or broadly, they got a consistent result.

"Leisure time–measured in a variety of ways–has increased significantly between 1965 and 2003," they write in "Measuring Trends in Leisure: The Allocation of Time Over Five Decades," a Boston Fed working paper.

How significantly? By as much as 5.1 hours a week–the equivalent of six weeks of vacation a year (assuming a 40 hour work week and adjusting for age). More good news: Leisure time, says Hurst, has grown more quickly among the less-educated. And cheer up, ladies:

In 2003, women spent 11.1 fewer hours a week working at home than they did in 1965. The biggest drop, 6.2 hours a week, came in cooking and cleaning up after meals–not surprising, given the enormous growth in restaurant and takeout meals and the spread of microwave ovens.

More here (it's from Virginia Postrel's latest NY Times col).

So if we're all lolling in leisure, why do most of us feel like our heads' are about to explode from activity? A few years back, I interviewed Geoffrey Godbey, coauthor of the excellent study Time for Life: The Surprising Ways Americans Use Their Time. Godbey and coauthor John Robinson found, similar to Hurst and pal, that we had gained about an hour a day of "free time" since 1965. So why so hectic? Here's what he said on that score:

Q: If people really have more time, then why do they feel rushed?

A: Twenty-five of those 40 hours come on weekdays, not on weekends, and they come in chunks of an hour here, an hour-and-a-half there. In many cases, that time does not provide for psychological release from work or other obligations. If leisure means tranquility, these hour-long chunks may not have much effect.

A major reason people feel rushed is that they believe the amount of change in our society is just unprecedented. More than anything else, rushing relates to the number of roles a person plays. If you're a married female with children in a two-car family and working full-time for pay, you'll feel rushed. Throw a pet in there, and you've got the whole catastrophe. Men's increased participation in child care and housework has a similar effect.

More here.

NEXT: Allah, Allah, Oxen Free

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. The studies are bogus because women have always exaggerated the amount of time they spend working around the house. Cooking, cleaning and holding babies just doesn’t take as long as people think. I have managed to operate a fairly successful business with four kids in tow, while providing a gourmet meal every night. Even if the house isn’t as clean as my wife would like.

  2. James Ard,

    Even if I grant your premise, why would the results for men be incorrect? Moreover, do you feel that the exaggeration was significantly above 11.1 hours a week? And if they were exaggerating then, shouldn’t they still be exaggerating now, resulting in a relative change in leisure time that is still valid?

    In addition, maybe you would prefer to read this FRBB working paper instead.

    Anon

  3. How significantly? By as much as 5.1 hours a week–the equivalent of six weeks of vacation a year (assuming a 40 hour work week and adjusting for age).

    But a lot of people work longer than 40 hours these days, which suggests that such an assumption is wrong. I also wonder if the authors take into account longer commute times–driving to and from work isn’t “leisure”.

    Since 1965, the number of hours the average American works for pay has not changed much.

    How much is “not much”?

    “It used to be that you worked till 65, and died at 66. Now you work till 65 and die at 80,” said Professor Hurst. “The net increase in leisure is rather large.”

    Knowing that you’ll spend a big chunk of time doing nothing when you’re old doesn’t help people who are currently in their 20s or 30s and have hardly any time to themselves.

  4. The paper is depressing in how many people are happy ripping others off. On the home workload, I doubt an eleven hour exaggeration is common. However, it could be true that women call cooking work, while I, and maybe some other men, call it leisure. Especially since it usually takes place in the evenings with multiple cocktails. As far as women exaggerating now days, there are so many fewer hours in which to claim you’re working at home, I’d think the exaggeration would be less.

  5. The increase in average lifespan over the past forty-odd years has almost nothing to do with people dying of “old age” at 80 instead of 66.

    65 year olds who retire in 2006 can expect to live only slightly longer than 65 year olds who retired in 1962.

    Almost all of the increase in lifespan has resulted from lower infant and child mortality rates, which has zippo nada nothing to do with people enjoying longer retirements.

  6. Almost all of the increase in lifespan has resulted from lower infant and child mortality rates, which has zippo nada nothing to do with people enjoying longer retirements.

    This is half right. Infant and child mortality have a lot to do with it, but people are living longer. More importantly, since the discovery of penicillin, adults die rarely from infections that used to kill them before its discovery. Also, I would imagine that workplace safety laws have had some effect, or are they just another government boondoggle?

  7. However, it could be true that women call cooking work, while I, and maybe some other men, call it leisure.

    Much as I love to cook, I think that any activity which is a daily chore wouldn’t count as leisure time. I enjoy getting my kids out of bed in the morning (really, them getting me out of bed), but for the purpose of this study, I don’t believe that would count as leisure time.

    (also, James Ard and I are not to the best of my knowledge related.)

  8. A comment on this from The Economist:

    “Mobile phones and email make people accountable on short notice, and competition may make them less secure in their jobs. So even if they are playing golf or walking in the park, they may feel as though they are working. It is surely nicer to feel overworked in the park than to be overworked in the office, but few Americans seem to look at it that way.”

  9. Rich, I’ve never researched the family tree for fear of what I’d find. Though I would guess that you’re a southerner or have southern roots. And we share that goofy cooking gene.

  10. Jen:

    “Knowing that you’ll spend a big chunk of time doing nothing when you’re old doesn’t help people who are currently in their 20s or 30s and have hardly any time to themselves.”

    Brings to mind that David Cross bit on electric scissors. You know, you save time here and there, and it adds up. Death comes to take the old man, but he says, “I used electric scissors for 37 years!”, so death says, ok, you got an extra 3 or 4 minutes. The old man asks, “well, what should I do”, and death replies, “I dunno, it’s your time!” The old man sighs, farts, then says, “OK, I’m ready”.

    David tells it much better, of course.

  11. I also wonder if the authors take into account longer commute times–driving to and from work isn’t “leisure”.

    The authors counted total work as the time spent actually working plus time spent commuting and time spent on ancillary work activities such as breaks or lunch.

  12. Newsflash: People make choices that have implications to their free time. These choices include their profession, the number of children they have, where they choose to live, and how they choose to go to work.

  13. I love David Cross.

    Also, I agree with Jennifer. I don’t get much solace from the thought, “Gee, after only 40 more years of this I’ll be done – and then I’ll have all the free time I want to cut coupons and get the senior discount at Bob Evans and crap my adult diapers and fall asleep watching The Price Is Right.” (However, sarcasm aside, I suppose I do look forward to hopefully having a few years of freedom post-retirement before I die.)

  14. “Almost all of the increase in lifespan has resulted from lower infant and child mortality rates, which has zippo nada nothing to do with people enjoying longer retirements.”

    Overstated, joe. A portion is improvement at the beginning and a portion is improvement at the end. We spend a lot of dollars on the back side, and it does have an effect. Statins alone are expected to have a monster impact on health in old age.

  15. I think Jason nails it, even though I agree to an extent with the angst involved.

    If I had a nickel for every person I know who complains of being broke while: a) living in a single home over 3,000 sq. ft. b) having a landline and 2+ cell phones, c) having cable tv with the largest package of “free” channels as well as paying for HBO, d) having a computer less than 2 years old and a high-speed internet connection, e) having a television the size of a small car, f) a blackberry, an iPod, and at least one mobile docking accessory for each, g)go out to eat at least 3 times a week, h) a SUV with tons of extras that gets in the low teens for gas mileage, etc., etc., I’d be rich.

    You can live a much less hectic lifestyle, with less stress and less work if you’re willing to give up some of the luxuries you want. And that doesn’t even begin to address what people spend on their children…

  16. quasibill, Yeah, it would be great to save time and money by not having kids. However, If I don’t replace myself, I don’t live up to my end of the bargain. Four may be excessive, but I remember how lucky I was to make it to twenty.

  17. “However, If I don’t replace myself, I don’t live up to my end of the bargain.”

    I don’t know who you made this bargain with, but that’s between you and them. And since you call it a bargain, I assume that means you entered it voluntarily, no?

  18. I shouldn’t have called it a bargain, because it surely is no bargain. And I did not voluntarily get born into a world that is based on reproduction, but I’ll play along while I’m here.

  19. I think Quasibill nails it. I’m amazed at how many people complain about their time and money pressures without any consideration of planning, prioritization or [gasp] actually giving up certain luxuries. Many choices boil down to arithmetic and judgment.

  20. …women call cooking work, while I, and maybe some other men, call it leisure. Especially since it usually takes place in the evenings with multiple cocktails.

    I’m with ya, brother. I get to play with fire, make a mess and I’m never be more than a few steps from the Fosters in the fridge.

  21. Four may be excessive, but I remember how lucky I was to make it to twenty.

    What happened to the other sixteen?

  22. “the things you own end up owning you.”

    that’s the best lesson i could take from fight club.

  23. Rich, you are almost half right. Seven of the eight of us are still kicking. You do know your Ards don’t you.

  24. Rich, now I get it. But not even J. S. Bach could afford to have twenty kids these days.

  25. More than anything else, rushing relates to the number of roles a person plays. If you’re a married female with children in a two-car family and working full-time for pay, you’ll feel rushed. Throw a pet in there, and you’ve got the whole catastrophe. Men’s increased participation in child care and housework has a similar effect.

    So is this paragraph intentionally saying that men’s participation in household chores adds to women feeling rushed?

  26. It’s all bullcrap. Being busy and stressed is the modern mantra of drones who want to appear macho to their fellow lemmings.

    Of course you pussies have no free time, you are busy working for a paycheck to please the ball and chain. And you call yourselves libertarians. hahahaha. Grow a pair, pay yourself, make your own hours and quit complaining.

    It’s all in your prozac-ready head.

  27. Horst, I don’t know that stress is neccessarily a byproduct of having an employer – I wouldn’t be surprised if it were more closely related to how much one likes his or her job than whether or not there’s an employer overhead.

    I work my ass off, but it’s not stressful – because I love what I do.

  28. Bitch bitch bitch.

    Not enough leisure time? What the f___ do you call this?

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.