Why you're so busy

The Economist's feature on time-poverty is an absolute must-read, explaining the multi-factorial nature of the modern time crunch, which combines the equivalence of time and money (leading to leisure hours that are as crammed as possible in order to maximize their value), the precarity of the American workplace (meaning that affluent workers work longer hours), and the pace of electronically mediated communications (which makes any kind of refractory pause feel like a wasteful and dull eternity).

And of course, as always, women and poor people have it even worse.

I recognized a lot of my own life in this piece, and was especially struck by the nature of a winner-take-all, massively unequal society, in which you must sacrifice your own leisure and that of your children in order to cram in as many opportunities for social advancement as possible, lest they end up as economic roadkill in 20 years.

The returns on work are also potentially much higher in America, at least for those with a college degree. This is because taxes and transfer payments do far less to bridge the gap between rich and poor than in other wealthy nations, such as Britain, France and Ireland. The struggle to earn a place on that narrow pedestal encourages people to slave away for incomparably long hours. “In America the consequences of not being at the top are so dramatic that the rat race is exacerbated,” says Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel prize-winning economist. “In a winner-takes-all society you would expect this time crunch.”

So rising wages, rising costs, diminishing job security and more demanding, rewarding work are all squeezing leisure time—at least for the fortunate few for whom work-time is actually worth something. But without a doubt the noisiest grumbles come from working parents, not least the well-educated ones. Time-use data reveals why these people never have enough time: not only are they working the longest hours, on average, but they are also spending the most time with their children.

American mothers with a college degree, for example, spend roughly 4.5 hours more per week on child care than mothers with no education beyond high school. This gap persists even when the better-educated mother works outside the home, as she is now likely to do, according to research from Jonathan Guryan and Erik Hurst of the University of Chicago, and Melissa Kearney of the University of Maryland. As for fathers, those with a job and a college degree spend far more time with their children than fathers ever used to, and 105% more time than their less-educated male peers. These patterns can be found around the world, particularly in relatively rich countries.

Why is everyone so busy? [The Economist]

(via Sean Bonner)