Leisure to Read Cafe Hayek

by Don Boudreaux on February 5, 2006

in Standard of Living

Are Americans overworked?  Perhaps more objectively, does the typical American have more or less leisure than he enjoyed in the allegedly halcyon days of the 1960s and 1970s?

New research by Mark Aguiar (of the Boston Fed) and Erik Hurst (of the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business) finds that Americans enjoy more leisure time than ever.  Here’s the abstract from their working paper, "Measuring Trends in Leisure: The Allocation of Time over Five Decades," available at the Boston Fed’s website:

In this paper, we use five decades of time-use surveys to document trends in the allocation of time. We document that a dramatic increase in leisure time lies behind the relatively stable number of market hours worked (per working-age adult) between 1965 and 2003. Specifically, we document that leisure for men increased by 6-8 hours per week (driven by a decline in market work hours) and for women by 4-8 hours per week (driven by a decline in home production work hours). This increase in leisure corresponds to roughly an additional 5 to 10 weeks of vacation per year, assuming a 40-hour work week. We also find that leisure increased during the last 40 years for a number of sub-samples of the population, with less-educated adults experiencing the largest increases. Lastly, we document a growing “inequality” in leisure that is the mirror image of the growing inequality of wages and expenditures, making welfare calculation based solely on the latter series incomplete.

Here’s the link to the paper.

In its February 4, 2006 issue, The Economist nicely summarizes this paper.  Here’s a paragraph from The Economist report:

Do the numbers add up?  One thing missing in Messrs Aguiar’s and Hurst’s work is that they have deliberately ignored the biggest leisure-gainers in the population — the growing number of retired folk.  The two economists excluded anyone who has reached 65 years old, as well as anyone under that age who retired early.  So America’s true leisure boom is even bigger than their estimate.

If time is money, we Americans today are much richer than we were in the past.

Russ Roberts blogged here on a related point.

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DJB February 5, 2006 at 12:31 pm

While I work far more hours then my parents, I do enjoy more leisure time as well. This is easily attributed to comparative advantage. I work an extra 2 hours at work, earning me the money to pay for a maid, a landscaper, two cars (both myself and my wife can split travel required obligations), and on and on with a net saving in time.

Randy February 5, 2006 at 8:37 pm

Not to mention that, more and more, work and leisure are becoming indistinguishable. We have people who make movies, write punk rock songs, play professional sports, study and write about obscure subjects, design clothing that no one will ever wear, work help desks but spend considerable time posting to blogs. Would any of these have been possible 100 years ago?

mark adams February 6, 2006 at 8:13 am


I think your point basically falls under the argument that the disutility to providing labour has fallen. In which case it is also worth noting that few people do backbreaking manual labour anymore, and companies devote considerable resources to trying to make the workplace environment more comfortable.

averagejoe February 6, 2006 at 11:02 pm

Compare leisure time and holidays to European standards. The Euros know how to enjoy themselves. Productivity growth is key. But what is the goal? Is it more leisure? They the Euros come out ahead. If its improving life styles over time, look at China. I'd like to see the study details. How are the increasing women in the workforce treated? Certainly they had more leisure when they were housewives???

Lab_Frog February 6, 2006 at 11:36 pm

Productivity should be measured as an individual’s increase in spreading its way of life, both genetically and non-genetically. Of course this is currently too hard to measure, but it is the ideal, not leisure time.
Of course the NYT continues with the myth of the over-worked American today: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/02/07/business/07sleep.html?hp&ex=1139288400&en=e54a492a1e04679b&ei=5094&partner=homepage

Frog wishes most Americans could spend a week back in twelfth century Europe as an average person, when “just” prices and wages were the ideal.

josh February 7, 2006 at 2:01 pm

Lab Frog,

I don't have the slightest idea what you're talking about. I'd rather be happy than spread my way of life. Shouldn't then, for me, that be the ideal?

Lab_Frog February 7, 2006 at 5:39 pm

But that which makes you happy is generally related to spreading your way of life, and the exceptions are normally based on illusionary effects. For example, playing computer games provides happiness because of the appearance of productive achievement.

mailfreegirl June 13, 2008 at 5:38 am

I remember I don't know a young we just were called I even to dine sweet, and one day,

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