No Time? Really? Why?

No Time? Really? Why? June 24, 2019

A wonderful piece by Brian Harris, with some very serious life style decisions implied.

It’s often said that while we are a wealthy society, we are time poor. Now the first claim is undoubtedly true, but the second should have a serious question mark placed alongside it. Time poor – in comparison to who and when?

Certainly not the ancient Hebrews. They worked a six day week from sunrise to sunset – on average a 72 hour working week. Indeed, a 70 hour plus working week has been the norm for most of human history. Robert Whaples, professor of economics at Wake Forest University has demonstrated that in the 1800’s a work week of 70 or more hours was common in the US, while Robert Fogel has taken considerable effort to calculate the number of usual working hours versus leisure hours at different periods in history and has convincingly demonstrated that the number of lifetime working hours has steadily decreased while lifetime leisure hours has soared. Here is one of his table of results, which includes a prediction for 2040:

Estimated Trend in the Lifetime Distribution of Discretionary Time, 1880-2040 USA

Activity 1880 1995 2040
Lifetime Discretionary Hours 225,900 298,500 321,900
Lifetime Work Hours 182,100 122,400 75,900
Lifetime Leisure Hours 43,800 176,100 246,000

Source: Fogel (2000)

Next time you want to complain about your exhausting 50 hour week, imagine your great-great aunt snorting from the grave, “Call that a working week!” Furthermore, the predictions are that our leisure time will keep on increasing. While those alive in 1880 put in 182 100 working hours in their lifetime, those alive 160 years later in 2040 are likely to be required to contribute a paltry 75 900 hours to the labour market – and that in spite of the fact that they will live so much longer than their 1880 relatives did. Indeed, those alive in 1880 usually had a mere 43 800 hours available for leisure in their entire lifetime – whilst those who plan to be with us in 2040, will have a massive 246 000 leisure hours  – or more than 5 times as many leisure hours as those in the 19th century.

Once you have let these figures sink in, you will realize that it is passing strange that the average local church is finding it near impossible to find volunteers to staff the modest selection of programs they run. The routine response to appeals for volunteers is that we are all far too busy. Really? Doing what?

Ah, that’s the crunch question, because truth to tell most of us are not staring at the ceiling desperate for something to do. We might have 5 times more leisure hours than our ancestors, but my, we have more than enough options to fill those hours. Think of the fascinating things we do. On average, people are spending about an hour a day on social media. For many, most of that hour goes on liking Facebook pages, happily affirming other people’s dinner choices. TV continues to take up large chunks of time, with the 15-44 age bracket watching least, but still clocking up an average of 2 hours per day, whilst those over 65 stay glued to their screens for double that time. On line games now occupy the time of vast numbers. The 1.8 billion people who participated in online games in 2014 is expected to rise to 2.4 billion by 2021. Add these three together, and many people are spending over four hours per day on TV, Facebook and online games. None of those options were available to our great-great aunts, so of course it seemed like they had so much more time for worthy things than we do. Without those distractions we’d have a bonus 28 hours a week. If your average book can be read in 12 hours, why, we could read a book a week and still have 16 more discretionary hours.

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