Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Overworked? Try too productive

Many Americans say that they are just too stressed, too overworked, and don't have enough time for themselves. It makes for great heart-wrenching human interest stories, but according to a new study highlighted in this week's Economist (Subscribe) we have more leisure time today than we did 30 years ago. (today 2/8 at&t is giving away a free day pass for watching a 30 second commercial if you aren't a regular subscriber, working paper available here)

We have more leisure time, but feel more overworked. The article poses two possible reasons: 1) we have a higher opportunity cost for our time, thus a walk in the park is more expensive than it was 30 years ago; and 2) since we are more efficient, we are able to do more in a day, and we over-commit (I am guilty of this one).

I've been very skeptical of the "overworked Americans" cry for years. If we're so overworked and underpaid how come there are ipods, tivos, satellite tv, new cars, etc. in every neighborhood? Granted, credit cards finance some of this purchasing, but credit card financing only lasts for so long and from what I can tell the trend towards more stuff has been going steadily for the past 20 years.

Now that we have higher opportunity costs for our time, how come so many people waste it watching reality tv?


Anonymous said...

How do we have a higher opp cost for our time? If you're salaried, the opp cost of your time is essentially $0 unless you have any side businesses/incomes. It's no easier to make money on the side now than it was 20 years ago, is it?

I think it all boils down to stress. People are under a lot of stress not only because jobs are going away but also because less people can afford to lose their job than in the past. If you're deep in CC debt, it's a lot more stressful for you than the guy in the cube next to you who has the same job but money in bank for a rainy day.

tt said...


If you are salaried, then no, you technically don't have the same wage-based opportunity cost of your time.

I do believe that it is easier to make money on the side now than it was 20 years ago (although not extremely) - selling things on ebay, starting internet companies, etc. All can be done in spare time. I believe that cost of incorporation, and transactions, and banking, etc, all the barriers to entry are being lowered so side businesses are easier to start. I don't have the stats on this, however.

I'm not sure that "jobs are going away" in the sense that we are loosing jobs in the economy. But, in the sense that jobs are less stable, nobody could argue with that.

The stress of cc debt is difficult to argue with. It's not only a monkey on your back, it is a 400lb gorilla (that smells and looks a bit like Dennis Miller).