Overworked? It’s All in Your Head. The Data Says You Aren’t

According to a recent study published in the Economist, our problem isn't too much work, it's too much money.

AS MOST Americans will tell you if you can stop them long enough to ask, working people in the United States are as busy as ever. Sure, technology and competition are boosting the economy; but nearly everyone thinks they have increased the demands on people at home and in the workplace. But is the overworked American a creature of myth?


Over the past four decades, depending on which of their measures one uses, the amount of time that working-age Americans are devoting to leisure activities has risen by 4-8 hours a week.

Go ahead and scoff. The authors predict that you will. So how do they explain the seemingly contradictory findings?

Weirdly, prosperity may be to blame in two ways. First, thanks to rising real incomes, an American's time is worth more now. A walk in the park is more expensive than it used to be. (When people complain to him about being too busy, Mr Hamermesh tells them that their real problem is too much money.) Second, 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.

Dinner out a few nights a week. An hour at the gym. Two hours of email and web surfing. A social gathering almost every weekend. These are things we didn't have a few decades ago.

  • This is actually as true as anything could be. I use to work for a sport and leisure research firm that studied this day in and day out.

    But you have to take in to consideration that the definition of “leisure time” is time that you spend on ANYTHING but work and sleep. You can also attribute this trend to an overall decrease in work hours due to more restricting labor laws then we had 4 or 5 decades ago.

    This also has to do with the way our economy dynamic has switched from a manufacturing centered economy to a service economy. With an increase in technology the once long labor hours required in manufacturing are no longer true. And when compared, people who work in the service industry on average work less then those in manufacturing.

    It’s interesting to see how this is all changing. Pro sport teams, and companies like Nike should be eating this up.

    P.S. Want to know the most popular leisure activity in North America?

    Answer: Bird Watching

  • Rob

    Bird Watching? Seriously? I was going to say I had never done it, but when I lived in Florida I used to love to watch the birds near the ocean. They would circle high and then dive down and try to grab a fish. It was cool.

  • Jason

    I think it’s wonderful that we even have a conception of “overworked”. It wasn’t too long ago that the only choice one had was between “overworked” and “starvation”. As real incomes continue to rise, I would expect that more people will make choices that trade money for a less tangible form of wealth. Long live capitalism!

  • Rob

    That’s like the obesity epidemic they keep claiming we have. A hundred years ago most people couldn’t even afford meat on a regular basis.