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.