Mo’ Money, Less Fun?

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jet skiier

When we speak of money, the word “security” frequently accompanies. For many, financial security means the ability to live life without having to constantly put out fires or juggle accounts to keep your head above water. Minus these problems, we imagine, we’d be free to pursue all the things we typically do in our non-working hours—spend time with family, travel to exotic locales, maybe buy a little cottage with a boat well.

Whatever makes us happy, we all need the time in which to do it, and we don’t have all that much here. We figure by working hard, up front, we can avoid having to do the same later on. While there’s certainly a lot of logic and truth to this reasoning, some interesting statistics have recently come to light that suggest the better-off you are, the less free time you’ll spend enjoying the fruits of your labor.

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Now, sure, if you’ve gone to college, earned a graduate or post-graduate degree, worked hard, paid your bills and built credit, and established yourself in a long-term career with good pay and benefits, you probably won’t pull your hair out worrying about a phone bill or making a house payment in your precious off-hours. And that may mean you’ll actually enjoy your time more—but you’re still likely to have less of it.

That’s according to an article on ConsumerismCommentary.com, which addressed a study that began with the intent of discovering whether a consumption gap existed along with the income gap between the years 1980 and 2010. The study went on to reinforce previous findings, from other sources, of a connection between education level and income; greater education levels usually translate to higher personal income levels. That wasn’t the report’s surprise.

More unexpected was that lower-educated men saw their leisure hours grow from 36.6 hours per week in 1985 to 39.1 hours in 2007—almost the equivalent of a full-time job. Highly educated men, on the other hand, saw free time shrink to 33.2 hours from 34.4 hours. Meanwhile, lower-educated women saw leisure time swell slightly from 35 to 35.2 hours per week as highly educated women saw free time decrease to just 30.3 hours from 32.2 hours.

So for both sexes, the higher education you obtain and the more money you make, the less available time you have to reap the benefits of what you’ve sewn—or, at least, the less time you choose to spend on it. Remember, the report wasn’t declaring a causal relationship, though it does suggest a possible correlation between greater success and less time spent on casual pursuits. And the report wasn’t making a judgment that persons with lower education or income don’t work as hard—but they do have more time away from the factory floor, office, or whatever, that they devote to non-productive activities.

Of course, in tough times, with companies shedding employees, higher-educated, higher-income folks in white-collar jobs have had to cope with increased workloads. That may have resulted in longer hours on the job and/or more take-home work, but the same time crunch, you’d imagine, would cut across the board—you’d expect all of us were working more, and harder, if we’re working at all. It’s just not technically what the report found.

Naturally, one wonders why lower-educated men and women have more free time on their hands and that picture is probably pretty complex, incorporating factors ranging from the innate cultures of various ethnic groups, to geographical factors, to the cyclical nature of seasonal labor, etc., etc. But there may be another factor at play: with the rampant problem of underemployment—not even accounted for in national jobless rates—many lower-educated workers have seen their hours cut from full-time to something less. That’s if they haven’t been laid-off or let go entirely. Hence, maybe one reason they spend less time working is because they literally can’t work more.

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If nothing else, the report gives us pause to reflect that those higher up on the income and education ladder aren’t necessarily a bunch of lazy fat cats, whiling away the hours of the day pleasure-boating or playing squash. No, you’re more likely to find them working—or rearing children. The report also found that better-educated and typically wealthier folks spend more time each week cooking for and raising their kids (not considered leisure time, defined by the study’s authors as time spent non-productively).

So, if you find yourself tempted to lament your hectic life, be advised, more free time could mean less in the bank or fewer framed sheepskins on the wall. At least, statistically speaking. Quizzologists, however, do advise that you use your vacation hours, Mr. and Mrs. America. You don’t, and that’s just crazy.