Having leisure time is now a marker for poverty, not riches


In Post-Industrious Society: Why Work Time will not Disappear for our Grandchildren, researchers from Oxford's Centre for Time Use Research argue that there has been a radical shift in the relationship between leisure, work and income. Where once leisure time was a mark of affluence, now it is a marker for poverty. The richer you are, the more likely you are to work long hours; while the poorer you are, the fewer hours you are likely to work every week.

The researchers theorise multiple causes for this. Poor people are more likely to be underemployed and unable to get the work-hours they want (and need) to support themselves. Rich people are likely to work in jobs that disproportionately advance and reward workers who put in overtime, so a 10% increase in hours worked generates more than 10% in expected career-gains.

They also claim that rich workers are more likely to be satisfied with their jobs, but I'm skeptical of this -- I think that relative to unskilled workers doing at-will 0-hours temp work whose every move is constrained and scripted by their employers, this is probably true, but I don't think that the white-collar world is producing a lot of people who think that their work is meaningful and rewarding.

In today’s advanced economies things are different. Overall working hours have fallen over the past century. But the rich have begun to work longer hours than the poor. In 1965 men with a college degree, who tend to be richer, had a bit more leisure time than men who had only completed high school. But by 2005 the college-educated had eight hours less of it a week than the high-school grads. Figures from the American Time Use Survey, released last year, show that Americans with a bachelor’s degree or above work two hours more each day than those without a high-school diploma. Other research shows that the share of college-educated American men regularly working more than 50 hours a week rose from 24% in 1979 to 28% in 2006, but fell for high-school dropouts. The rich, it seems, are no longer the class of leisure.

There are a number of explanations. One has to do with what economists call the “substitution effect”. Higher wages make leisure more expensive: if people take time off they give up more money. Since the 1980s the salaries of those at the top have risen strongly, while those below the median have stagnated or fallen. Thus rising inequality encourages the rich to work more and the poor to work less.

Nice work if you can get out [The Economist]

(via /.)

(Image: Lonely Hammock, Micky Zlimen, CC-BY-SA)

Notable Replies

  1. I find this fascinating, and I'm glad I read it but I'll immediately reject the form of the argument and remind myself that this is in The Economist, and it has a target demo, (So it also has an agenda)
    Here are some choice quotes:

    "Overall working hours have fallen over the past century. But the rich have begun to work longer hours than the poor. In 1965 men with a college degree, who tend to be richer, had a bit more leisure time than men who had only completed high school. But by 2005 the college-educated had eight hours less of it a week than the high-school grads."

    The value of a college degree is quite different today, in 1965 you didn't get a degree and then "tend to be richer" you were also, almost assured employment, that is, a college degree was a key to a labour market that other's wouldn't have access to. Today a lit major can aspire to be a Barista if he so chooses, but so can a slacker type high school dropout. (Relax, there's a joke in there, somewhere.

    "There are fewer really dull jobs, like lift-operating, and more glamorous ones, like fashion design"
    There's a LOT to unpack here, instead I'll just say: Huh.

    "The occupations in which people are least happy are manual and service jobs requiring little skill"
    Are we meant to understand that they are least happy of all BECAUSE the job requires little skill?

    "Job satisfaction tends to increase with the prestige of the occupation."
    This is true, but I also know this to be a deliberate maneuver by employers to motivate workers into working more without also having to pay more. I'm saying here that where being a manager in the "Downtown Abbey" world had much more prestige as well as much more purchasing power than being a lower ranking employee (I'm making an educated guess here), managers are a dime a dozen in todays world. That is, there used to be a divide, a chasm, between being a mere peon and a manager, where today, that divide has moved now to separate middle managers from CEO types.

    "passive leisure” (such as watching TV)"
    Ah, this is is leisure.

    "by opening a vast world of high-quality and cheap home entertainment, means that low-earners do not need to work as long to enjoy a reasonably satisfying leisure."
    Ah yes, so the conclusion of the article is that smarter, richer people work more and watch less TV.

    Seems the point of the article is to reinforce this very idea isnt it? That would put it in line with the editorial values of a site called "the Economist"

  2. The article is comparing 'college-educated other workers. Having a bachelor's degree hardly makes one "rich" nowadays. In fact, it seems to be a union card for all but the most casual employment, while it used to mean entree to a much more rarefied tier of work.

    But the article does spot a trend that I noticed some time ago: those that are employed full time are generally overworked, and putting in long hours. But their employers still aren't hiring, and often seem to be willing even to pass up on business rather than taking the risk of hiring enough staff to handle the business. So you wind up with relatively few overworked employees and a great many unemployed.

  3. An aquaintance once remarked, by way of taking out and terminating a tedious 'zOMG are teachers total slackers because they get summer vacation?' discussion, "The difference between 'vacation' and 'unemployment' is your bank balance at the time."

    It is indeed perverse that there are people who are working their asses off to make money they won't have time to spend in any reasonably hands-on way; but calling the condition of somebody who simply can't wring more than 20-30 hours a week out of their shit job 'leisure' betrays an unfamiliarity with poverty so profound that it probably feels at home on the WSJ editorial pages and could be cured only by a holiday in Cambodia or ontological reassignment to the role of a despised minority with several drug convictions and no marketable skills.

  4. "Alpha children wear grey. They work much harder than we do, because
    they're so frightfully clever. I'm really awfully glad I'm a Beta,
    because I don't work so hard. And then we are much better than the
    Gammas and Deltas. Gammas are stupid. They all wear green, and Delta
    children wear khaki. Oh no, I don't want to play with Delta children.
    And Epsilons are still worse. They're too stupid to be able …"

  5. Ygret says:

    I could be bothered to read the piece, as its at The Economist and I stopped being able to read their drivel years ago. But even the conclusions quoted in the OP are nonsensical:

    "There are a number of explanations. One has to do with what economists
    call the “substitution effect”. Higher wages make leisure more
    expensive: if people take time off they give up more money. Since the
    1980s the salaries of those at the top have risen strongly, while those
    below the median have stagnated or fallen. Thus rising inequality
    encourages the rich to work more and the poor to work less."

    First of all, high wage earners get paid when they take time off, so there is no trade-off for them. And the final hilarity shows, once again, the disconnect between how the poor actually live and how they are portrayed by the capitalist classes. The poor don't choose to work less because they earn less, they're forced to work more (if they can find the hours of course). But of course, in this brave neoliberal world we are all "rational economic agents" that choose to work less when we earn less because that is the rational response when weighing the cost-benefit of the "value" of the hourly wage versus an hour of leisure time.

Continue the discussion bbs.boingboing.net

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