Friday, March 09, 2007

Yes, we spend less time on the job than we did a century ago, and less time on housework, but a lot more time in school. The net result is negligble increase in leisure.
Based on available evidence, it seems that housekeeping involved about 56 hours a week in 1912. This fell to 52 hours a week by 1920 and stayed constant until 1965; it then declined again, dropping to 45 hours a week by 1975, and has been relatively constant since.

If we were willing to settle for the standards of nutrition, health and cleanliness that prevailed in 1900, much less labor would be required. But, as Betty Friedan has said in “The Feminine Mystique,” “housewifery expands to fill the time available.”

When you account for the much longer time in school, the more or less constant amount of time spent on housework, and make a few other adjustments, hours spent on purely enjoyable activities haven’t changed that much in the last century. Keynes may have been right that future generations will have a lot of time on their hands, but I wouldn’t bet on that happening anytime soon.

(HT: Greg Mankiw.) Read the academic paper here.


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