NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


March 23, 2007

In 1965, leisure was pretty much equally distributed across classes.  People of the same age, sex and family size tended to have about the same amount of leisure, regardless of their socioeconomic status.  But since then, says author Steven E. Landsburg, two things have happened: leisure (like income) has increased dramatically across the board and though everyone's a winner, the biggest winners are at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder.

According to professors Mark Aguiar and Erik Hurst, who combined the results of several large surveys (including studies where randomly chosen subjects kept detailed time diaries):

  • In 1965, the average man spent 42 hours a week working at the office or the factory; throw in coffee breaks, lunch breaks, and commuting time, and you're up to 51 hours.
  • Today, instead of spending 42 and 51 hours, he spends 36 and 40.
  • Overall, depending on exactly what you count, he's got an extra six to eight hours a week of leisure -- call it the equivalent of nine extra weeks of vacation per year.

Other findings:

  • About 10 percent of us are stuck in 1965, leisurewise.
  • At the opposite extreme, 10 percent of us have gained a staggering 14 hours a week or more.
  • By and large, the biggest leisure gains have gone precisely to those with the most stagnant incomes -- that is, the least skilled and the least educated.
  • And conversely, the smallest leisure gains have been concentrated among the most educated, the same group that's had the biggest gains in income.

Source: Steven E. Landsburg, "The Theory of the Leisure Class; An economic mystery: Why do the poor seem to have more free time than the rich?", March 9, 2007; based upon: Mark Aguiar and Erik Hurst, "Measuring Trends in Leisure: The Allocation of Time Over Five Decades," National Bureau of Economic Research, Working Paper No. 12082, March 2006.

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