Economic Growth

We Work Less, Have More Leisure Time and Earn More Money

Income per capita per year was up 111 percent between 1950 and 2016.

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One of my favorite Human Progress datasets comes from the Conference Board and deals with the decline in the amount of work over time. Globally, a worker could expect to work 2,227 hours in 1950. By 2016, however, he or she worked only 1,855 hours. That's a decline of 17 percent.

Over the same time period, global inflation-adjusted income per capita per year rose from $11,578 to $24,400, or 111 percent. Put differently, we are working less while making more money.

Professor Jesse Ausubel, who teaches at the Rockefeller University and is an advisory board member of Human Progress, has just come out with a new paper estimating working time over a much longer period.

As he writes in Working Less and Living Longer: Long-Term Trends in Working Time and Time Budgets, in 1856 a British male worked 149,700 hours over the course of his lifetime. By 1981 that number dropped to 88,000 hours. That's a decline of 41 percent. For women in Britain, it declined by 37 percent over the same time period.

Ausubel found a similar trend in other developed countries. Between 1870 and 1987, working hours in France, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States declined from roughly 3,000 hours per year to roughly 1,600 hours per year. That's a reduction of 47 percent. In Japan, an outlier, they declined by 33 percent.

In a separate paper, Ausubel estimated the number of hours worked as a share of hours alive. According to Ausubel, in 1960 a British worker spent 11.72 percent of his life working. By 2010 that number dropped to 8.77 percent, suggesting that a typical Briton had more time to spend on leisure and family.

While Ausubel's paper only dealt with Great Britain, it is safe to assume that in a vast majority of developed countries people work less, earn more money and enjoy more leisure time than a half-century ago.

NEXT: Death from Above

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  2. And I notice that global GDP per capita fell in the 1980’s. I wonder why? I blame Reagan.

  3. How is this supposed to make me feel? Show me a graph where the rich are getting poorer regardless of my work life and financial condition and then I can celebrate a victory!

  4. I must have misplaced my extra time and money!

    1. It’s not you, those graphs are for the world – which means even if we’re doing worse where we are, so long as the third world shows gains, the graph says things are better.

      1. Also, the graphs cover a fairly long time span. On a long enough timeline, even the great depression could be viewed as a period of great wealth and prosperity.

      2. It is about the developed world.

        1. *scrolls up* only in the ‘hours worked’ graphs – where are on such a lughably long time scale, and suspiciously selected countries (1850-1980 UK Only; 1870-1990 medly of the west; 1950-2010 UK Only)

          Also, and agregate of “hours worked” in of itself hides the part-time and permatemp issues. The way this article is presented just sets off so many red flags of “we’re trying to hide data” that I’m made more skeptical of the claims the more I look at it.

          I went to the linked human progress site to look at that data, and it wasn’t such a cherry-colored picture.

          1. The female contribution would seem to skew the numbers also as their role in the workforce has varied quite a bit. But anecdotally, it seems there are fewer people working 10 hours a day, 6 days a week than there has been in the past. That doesn’t seem like too outrageous of a claim.

            1. Easy for you to say just as I am getting into my three-month peak where I work 60 to 80 hours a week.

              *speaking in a jovial manner*

            2. Had they made that claim instead, I would see their point. But your anecdote meets mine where I know far too many people who are objectively worse off of late compared to one or two decades ago. So a claim of “We’re all doing better” needs something better than “fifty or a hundred and fifty years ago, people were working their asses off” in terms of objective backing.

              Instead, the data set in the background says “we’re close to returning to where we were in 2006”. But it doesn’t go more granular than national.

              1. Agreed. Not much useful can come of these graphs, other than we are likely richer than we were in 1900 and don’t have to work quite as hard for it.

          2. Suspiciously selected countries – I noticed that too. I notice the steepest drop off for hours worked starts about the time the US began paying western european countries not to throw in with the USSR. Isnt that why they spent decades working short hours and having 6 weeks paid vacation for everyone? There is more to the picture than just hours worked vs pay. Figure in the redistribution schemes and things look a bit different.

            Still, overall the trend they claim is correct. Things are a lot better than they used to be.

      3. I know. Reason likes to put out these articles telling us we are better off. The world is freer today than it was 50 years ago. Whoop-dee-shit. Americans are less free,

  5. Just like Marion I to work from home with a laptop and made 5000 dollars just last week. You can too, to find out more click here.

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    2. *hovers over link*
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  6. GDP is a worthless metric. They tried to make one number that conveys everything and came up with a number that conveys nothing.

    1. If you want to try to get an accounting of national consumption and try to relate it to national income, it makes a little sense. But to measure the health and potential of the economy it leaves much to be desired. Plus all the idiots use stats wrong to begin with. It’s like the AP article I saw that claimed that a drop in oil prices was bad for Europe because it caused deflation and they were trying to get 2% inflation.

      1. Now if they accounted for debt in the GDP numbers, we’d be getting a little closer. Anyone can rack up bills by buying shit they can’t afford….until they can’t.

        1. Or just remove all government spending since there’s no objective way to know if it created wealth or not. It would still be an imperfect standard, but better than what we have now.

      2. Also, the article ignored the massive increase in taxation that took place in that long time frame.

  7. Could we get this research done again, but using actual work, as in producing something, instead of “going to a job”, which is altogether different. Examples; government employees, education administration, etc. should not be counted as work.

    1. That would be too much work, as you’d have to evaluate too many individuals and determine if someone were goldbricking, or otherwise shirking.

      Just accept your dose of upbeat from your betters like they want you to…

    2. Hell, there’s thousands if not millions of people who nominally work in the private sector, but who’s only job is to comply with an expansive list of laws and regulations. Contra Keynes, that doesn’t make us richer, it makes us poorer.

      1. +1 “Compliance” Department

        1. Tell me about it. I’m supposed to be developing new products, creating wealth, and I’d guess that 75% of my time is dealing with compliance and regulatory issues. Today’s fun is Conflict Minerals, where I spend hours filling out spreadsheets to justify the one pound of tin we use per year. Yesterday was REACH accounting. And these are gifts that will keep on giving for the rest of the year.

  8. Hey Americans, the last thirty years have kinda sucked for you but look how much better off they are In Guangzhou.

    Yeah, that’s a winning libertarian argument.

    1. More like ” The taxation and regulatory burden are killing jobs and strangling prosperity. Wow look at how much better off we are now than we used to be.(shows graph that has all the aforementioned problems)”

      SMDH

    2. What’s this commie premise that the last 30 years sucked?

    3. Even if the glomming of all these stats is true, I find it funny that any libertarian is following the Soviet path of believing that the centralized top-down stats (now globalist) are true/reality.

      It’s no wonder libertarians are increasingly just seen as shills on economic issues and have zero ability to understand why things like Brexit/Trump happen

  9. Run the numbers again excluding France.

  10. Speaking of leisure, just saw a factoid that medieval peasants took 150 days off per year for holidays and festivities.

    1. Was it a festival called “Winter”?

    2. The industrial revolution was likley one of the worst times in history in terms of brutal labor for the poor, farming is tough work but its more varied, outdoors, more communal and there are periods of less intense work unlike the continuous hard labor in factories but there is also that degree of uncertainty. Same with Hunter Gathering to agriculture. We humans evolve as hunter gatherers we can see remains of hunter gatherers and notice that they are healthier and longer lived than the early farmers but again there is more uncertainty. Also gathering style lifestyles takes a lot of space, agriculture less and factories even less.

    3. Looking at pre-industrial history from an economic perspective is interesting. Combine some of Fernand Braudel’s books with some of the online ‘medieval prices’ info – economic life was not that bad for Type B personalities (work-to-live). Renting a cottage cost 5 shillings per year. A semi-skilled laborer (eg thatchers mate) earned 2 pence per day. So to spend 25% of their annual income on basic then-acceptable housing cost them about 4 months work – with one income/cash earner in the family. They didn’t need to work much longer per year than that if they just weren’t that into ‘stuff’ and were more into socializing/family.

  11. RE: We Work Less, Have More Leisure Time and Earn More Money

    If that won’t piss off all the socialists in this country, nothing will.

    1. As per this site, socialists and progressives are taking over, and ruining, the world. But markers showing improvement in the form of less work for more money will piss them off…? What argument are you trying to make?

      1. Happiness is an alien concept to progressives.
        They’re always pissed off about something.
        Having more money for less work would make any sane person happy but not a progressive.
        Progressives will never be happy until they are in charge and everyone else’s world is dictated by them.
        The progressives do not like other people to have financial independence or freedom from the State’s plantation, especially since progressives are the ones that want to run said government plantation and will never be happy until they do. Other people’s happiness, especially when it comes to less work and more money annoys the socialists and progressives to no end.

        1. Interesting theory. I also have an interesting theory to share: it’s called “The Straw Man Fallacy”. Are you familiar?

          1. I am.
            I listen to it every time some progressive talks to me about the benefits and wonders of socialism.

            1. Even if someone presents you with a misleading and ultimately false presentation of what socialism can do, that’s not a straw man. A straw man is intentionally mischaracterizing some else’s position in order to make it easier to attack.

              People aren’t evil just for disagreeing with you, OK? You may not agree with a socialist, or whoever else, but that doesn’t make them malevolent, or have nefarious motives.

              1. ” A straw man is intentionally mischaracterizing some else’s position in order to make it easier to attack.”

                That is true. Nevertheless, I’ve heard all the left’s arguments, and find them wanting.

                People aren’t evil just for disagreeing with you, OK?”

                I never said they were. But let’s face it. I have yet to hear an argument from a big government cheerleader that has our best interests at heart.

              2. ” A straw man is intentionally mischaracterizing some else’s position in order to make it easier to attack.”

                Right. No cheerleader for socialism has ever done that.

                “People aren’t evil just for disagreeing with you, OK?”

                I never said they were. Yet I’ve never known a progressive to have good intentions for us when they advocate their failed economic and political system they try to push on us so ardently. These progressives have yet to realize their intentions usually lead down the path to hell. Most of them are sincere but fail to realize their ideas lead to catastrophic results. The sad part of this is they are naive enough to believe all the lies they’ve been told and read and usually refuse to see anyone else’s viewpoint.

                1. If that’s true, than what should be made of recent data that shows 1) wages are growing at their fastest rate in 8 years, 2) American wages have reached an all-time high, and 3) median household income is at an all-time high?

                  1. Gee, I wonder if that was someone from the Obama administration who reached those conclusions?

  12. The problem with looking at an average of the population is that many of us just don’t work. Looking at Shadowstats unemployment numbers (which many here know measure unemployment using the original measurements, not the massaged/phony/happy calculation they use today), we’ve been ~20% unemployed for years now. But if you have a job, you’re likely working far longer hours than ever, especially if you’re in a salaried position. When I started working, after 6:00pm or so you never heard from the office. Now it’s normal for my work phone’s email alert to chime all night long, and not just with the automated outage alerts. Supervisors and managers often “catch up” on mail after putting the kids to bed, then forward important stuff while eating breakfast (or sitting in traffic). When I work graveyard shift, if I forget to shut off my phone (or I’m on call), it’s a given that I will get at least 2 calls during the day that start with “did I wake you up?” And a very large number of people take their work phones and laptops along when they go on vacation too.

    So yes, as a group we’re working fewer hours. But you slackers on disability and EBT are going to be in a world of hurt when we 60 hour workers get burned out and quit.

    1. If you’re working 60 hours a week it’s your own fault. I have never had to work more than 40. When it became a problem for more I went elsewhere. You have a choice on what you buy and how you earn a living.

  13. Get out of here with facts and charts!

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