Thursday, March 30, 2006

Land of Leisure

GDP is often used as a measurement for standard of living. As any good economist will tell you, it was never designed to do this, and it really doesn't do a very good job. One of the major things it misses is what happens with leisure time. In GDP terms leisure time has zero value, but obviously it has value and more of it raises your standard of living.

So I was glad to read in the Economist about this report by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, with the yawn inducing title: Measuring Trends in Leisure: The Allocation of Time over Five Decades (pdf of report). They took a look at how leisure time has changed in the US over the last 40 years.

I would skip over all the text and just go to the tables at the end. You can see for yourself what the changes have been. Actually it would have been even better to go straight to the data and run your own analysis of what happened, but the data is in Stata format (whatever that is) and I don't know how to view it.

You can see all sorts of interesting things about how work and play has changed for Americans over the years. How more women are now working in the marketplace and more men are now putting in time around the house.

Using our preferred definition of leisure, we find that the amount of leisure time in the US has increased by 7.9 hours per week on average for men and by 6.0 hours for women between 1965 and 2003 controlling for demographics. Interestingly, the decline in total work (the sum of total market work and total non-market work) was nearly identical for the men and women (7.9 and 7.7 hours per week, respectively). These increases in leisure are extremely large. In 1965, the average man spent 61 hours per week and the average women spent 54 hours per week in total market and non-market work.
Almost 8 hours more of leisure time a week. That is great news.
However, while the level of leisure in 1965 was roughly equal across educational status, the subsequent increase in leisure was greatest among less-educated adults.
This is interesting, but it is not quite clear what it means. Looking at the data, those with out a HS degree now work on average 5 hours less per week than those that have it (and they used to work equal amounts). Would those without a HS degree prefer to work more hours? Not clear. But it is clear that they now have more non-work time at their disposal.

Also interesting is that men work longer and play longer than women. Men work 53.60 hrs and have 37.56 hrs of leisure a week vs 46.91 and 33.80 for women. How can this be? Women spend 9 hours more per week than men sleeping, eating, in personal activities and in basic and educational child care.

Given the results in this study, why then do most people I talk with feel like they are busier than ever? Maybe it has to do with the fact that this study didn't measure the "on-call" time, where we aren't working but we might have some stress and not be able to completely relax and enjoy the leisure time. It might also have to do with the fact that most of this change has happened from 1996 on, and this study only has data points at 1993 and 2003 so it might not be capturing it yet. Or it might be as the Economist puts it:
Economic advances allow people to squeeze ever more possible activities, both work and leisure, into a day, which encourages people to try to do too much.

1 comment:

viral said...

nice ...

yup, reminds me of this article that i read which said that something like 80% of americans come back more stressed / tired from a vacation than before they left!

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