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What's Next? Join Us. They are often both unsatisfying and poorly paid. Yet the leisure-time gap between employees with more and less education is not merely a product of labour-market changes. Less well-educated men also spend less time searching for work, doing odd jobs for money and getting extra training than unemployed educated men, and they do less work around the house and spend less time with their children.
But this does not explain why so many well-educated and better-paid people have less leisure time than they did in the s. Various factors may account for this phenomenon. One is that college-educated workers are more likely to enjoy what they do for a living, and identify closely with their careers, so work long hours willingly. Particularly at the top, a demanding job can be a source of prestige, so the rewards of longer hours go beyond the financial.
Another reason is that all workers today report greater feelings of job insecurity. Slow economic growth and serious disruptions in any number of industries, from media to architecture to advertising, along with increasing income inequality, have created ever more competition for interesting, well-paid jobs. Meanwhile in much of the rich world, the cost of housing and private education has soared. They can also expect to live longer, and so need to ensure that their pension pots are stocked with ample cash for retirement. Faced with sharper competition, higher costs and a greater need for savings, even elite professionals are more nervous about their prospects than they used to be.
This can keep people working in their offices at all hours, especially in America, where there are few legal limits on the working hours of salaried employees. This extra time in the office pays off.
Because knowledge workers have few metrics for output, the time people spend at their desks is often seen as a sign of productivity and loyalty. So the stooge who is in his office first thing in the morning and last at night is now consistently rewarded with raises and promotions, or saved from budget cuts. It also helps reinforce the gender-wage gap, as working mothers are rarely able to put in that kind of time in an office. Ultimately, more people at the top are trading leisure for work because the gains of working—and the costs of shirking—are higher than ever before.
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Revealingly, inequalities in leisure have coincided with other measures of inequality, in wages and consumption, which have been increasing steadily since the s. While the wages of most workers, and particularly uneducated workers, have either remained stagnant or grown slowly, the incomes at the top—and those at the very top most of all—have been rising at a swift rate. This makes leisure time terribly expensive. So if leisureliness was once a badge of honour among the well-off of the 19th century, in the words of Thorsten Veblen, an American economist at the time, then busyness—and even stressful feelings of time scarcity—has become that badge now.
To be pressed for time has become a sign of prosperity, an indicator of social status, and one that most people are inclined to claim. Though professionals everywhere complain about lacking time, the gripes are loudest in America. This makes some sense: American workers toil some of the longest hours in the industrial world.
Employers are not required to offer their employees proper holidays, but even when they do, their workers rarely use the lot. Nowhere is the value of work higher and the value of leisure lower. This is the country that invented take-away coffee, after all. But the reality is more complicated. Until the s, American workers put in the same number of hours as the average European, and a bit less than the French.
But things changed during the big economic shocks of the s. In Europe labour unions successfully fought for stable wages, a reduced work week and more job protection. Labour-friendly governments capped working hours and mandated holidays. European workers in essence traded money for more time—lower wages for more holiday.
This raised the utility of leisure, because holidays are more fun and less costly when everyone else is taking time off too. Though European professionals are working longer hours than ever before, it is still fairly hard to find one in an office in August. In America, where labour unions have always been far less powerful, the same shocks led to job losses and increased competition. In the s Ronald Reagan cut taxes and social-welfare programmes, which increased economic inequality and halted the overall decline in working hours.
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The rising costs of certain basics—pensions, health care and higher education, much of which is funded or subsidised in Europe—make it rational to trade more time for money. And because American holidays are more limited, doled out grudgingly by employers if at all , it is harder to co-ordinate time off with others, which lowers its value, says John de Graaf, executive director of Take Back Your Time, an advocacy organisation in America.http://pierreducalvet.ca/95921.php
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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. 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.
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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. These patterns can be found around the world, particularly in relatively rich countries.
If their leisure time is so scarce, why are these people spending so much of it doting on their sprogs, shepherding them from tutors to recitals to football games? There are several reasons for this. Another reason is that parents—and above all educated parents—are having children later in life, which puts them in a better position emotionally and financially to make a more serious investment. When children are deliberately sought, sometimes expensively so, parenting feels more rewarding, even if this is just a confirmation bias.
The rise in female employment also seems to have coincided with or perhaps precipitated a similarly steep rise in standards for what it means to be a good parent, and especially a good mother. Though women do less work around the house than they used to, the jobs they do tend to be the never-ending ones.
Attentive fathers handle more of the enjoyable tasks, such as taking children to games and playing sports, while mothers are stuck with most of the feeding, cleaning and nagging. Though women do less work around the house than they used to, the jobs they do tend to be the never-ending ones, like tidying, cooking and laundry.
Well-educated men chip in far more than their fathers ever did, and more than their less-educated peers, but still put in only half as much time as women do. And men tend to do the discrete tasks that are more easily crossed off lists, such as mowing lawns or fixing things round the house.
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All of this helps explain why time for mothers, and especially working mothers, always feels scarce. Parents also now have far more insight into how children learn and develop, so they have more tools and fears as they groom their children for adulthood. This reinforces another reason why well-off people are investing so much time in parenthood: preparing children to succeed is the best way to transfer privilege from one generation to the next.
Now that people are living longer, parents are less likely to pass on a big financial bundle when they die. Leisure time is now the stuff of myth. Some are cursed with too much. Others find it too costly to enjoy. Many spend their spare moments staring at a screen of some kind, even though doing other things visiting friends, volunteering at a church tends to make people happier. Not a few presume they will cash in on all their stored leisure time when they finally retire, whenever that may be.
In the meantime, being busy has its rewards. Otherwise why would people go to such trouble? Alas time, ultimately, is a strange and slippery resource, easily traded, visible only when it passes and often most highly valued when it is gone. No one has ever complained of having too much of it. Instead, most people worry over how it flies, and wonder where it goes. Cruelly, it runs away faster as people get older, as each accumulating year grows less significant, proportionally, but also less vivid. Experiences become less novel and more habitual. The years soon bleed together and end up rushing past, with the most vibrant memories tucked somewhere near the beginning.
And of course the more one tries to hold on to something, the swifter it seems to go. Writing in the first century, Seneca was startled by how little people seemed to value their lives as they were living them—how busy, terribly busy, everyone seemed to be, mortal in their fears, immortal in their desires and wasteful of their time.