Working Hours Declining

Russ Roberts fact checks Charles McGrath's rumpus and points out these BLS statistics that inconveniently contradict the whole point of McGrath's article.

Hours worked per week (for private production and non-supervisory workers):

1970 37.0
1975 36.0
1980 35.2
1985 34.9
1990 34.3
1995 34.3
2000 34.3
2003 33.7

So… whoops.

Russ also mentions that for some classes of workers, there is more leisure at work these days, which further undermines the “we're working ourselves to death” meme.

This raises the further point that it is just not the case that labor is labor is labor and that leisure is leisure is leisure. Lots of offices, for example, are nice places to go with many amenities, a satisfying set of social relations, and a sense of productive efficacy. This sort of “labor” simply isn't a disutility that is offset by the utility of wages. More of this kind of work can be quite good for us. Conversely, lots of “leisure” is spent accomplishing tedious tasks such as laundry or home maintenenance that one can't afford to outsource. And the so-called “leisure” enjoyed by the unemployed can be downright psychologically toxic.

I would like more “leisure” not so much to get away from work, but to pursue creative pursuits that are not as well economically rewarded as my official work (which is incredibly satisfying in its own right, and worlds away from the salt mine, and everyone should be so lucky). That is, while I would like to travel more, say, or to sleep in more often, what I would really use more “leisure” time for is a different kind of intrinsically satisfying “labor.” I doubt I'm alone in this. So folks need to be more careful when writing articles in the Times about how terrible all this work is.

In particular, McGrath needs to think twice when he writes, “And far from complaining, we have adopted a superior, moralizing attitude that sees work not as a necessary evil, a means to an end, but as an end in itself,” as if it somehow clear that work is not an end in itself, and that it is somehow clear that we should not adopt a superior attitude toward this approach to work.