My good ol’ buddy, Eben, sent me a link on how we’ve been historically moving towards longer lives and less work.
Now, the CSS is very fancy and all that, but the real magic is here.
If you’re click-shy, hat’s the study that all of these pretty graphs, charts, bars and whatnot are relying on.
The study mainly focuses on the decrease of work-time within the UK and uses (as usual) controversial terminology in terms of work. What I mean by that is (as far as I could tell) that it only counts contracted and paid labor that is official. Unpaid labor isn’t counted as work and neither are social duties (so things like housework for example).
Even so, the results of the study are promising:
If we hold constant at the 1980 value the length of the male and female careers at 46 and 30 years, work weeks at 46 per year for both genders, and female participation in the work force at 40%, and speculate that the trends of Figure 4 continue into the future, projected lifetime hours in 2050 would translate to a 33 hour workweek for men and a 22 hour workweek for women, or 27 hours for both men and women. (emphasis mine)
Here’s another bright spot to consider:
Comparing life hours of work to total disposable, active non-work hours yields the fractions of the lifetime time budget at work and other activities. Disposable hours are calculated by subtracting 10 years for childhood and first elementary education and also required physiological time.
For the latter we have assumed (perhaps oversimplifying) 10 hours per day for sleep, eating, and personal hygiene for both genders. Between 1856 and 1981 disposable lifetime hours increased from 242 to 356 thousand hours in the United Kingdom, while, as we calculated above, the average working hours decreased from 124 to 69 thousand hours.
Thus, non-work hours increased from about 118 to 287 thousand hours over a lifetime (Figure 7). While in 1856 50% of the disposable lifetime of workers was spent working, the portion has fallen to less than 20% today (Figure 8). Both reduced lifetime working hours and increased life expectancy caused the shift.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t attach huge qualifiers to all of this, saying that they are relying on a variety of (mostly) old studies. And it’s likely these studies have different conceptions of work itself means. These studies likely also have different methodological strategies and languages to work with in analyzing the phenomenon of leisure and work.
In addition, the problems with applying any statistical data across hundreds of years is that you exponentially increase the chancs of getting something wrong. Or for what would otherwise be a few kinks in their argument turn into something much larger when seen as a whole.
There are lots of dangers with the sort of research going on here.
But despite those dangers, this is still some exciting news.
And intuitively, it makes sense. We’ve had technologies that have gradually made our lives easier and easier in a lot of ways. Sure, our bosses have used them against us via “work emails” while we’re away from the office. Or even while we’re away on a “vacation” from work, where we spend most of it worried about returning to work, preparing for going back to work, checking work emails and so on.
But even so, things like the smartphone have radically empowered people to take more control over their lives. The microwave, stove, washing machine, television, computer and so many other devices have helped make our lives easier, faster and more convenient. We don’t have to slave away for hours (unless you like to) on the stove making a four course meal for everyone. You don’t need to work on an assembly line in many places anymore and if you do then they’re likely radically simplified in ways that wasn’t available 50 or so years ago.
I’m not saying things are perfect. I’m just saying that maybe…maybe…they’re getting better.
As per the abstract:
Analyses of time series data beginning in the mid-nineteenth century in the industrialized nations, especially the United Kingdom, show that on average people are working significantly less while living longer.
Although the average career length has remained around 40 years, the total life hours worked shrank for an average British worker from 124,000 hours in 1856 to 69,000 in 1981. The fraction of disposable lifetime hours spent working declined from 50% to 20%. Meanwhile the female share of career years doubled to 30%.
If the long-term trends continue at their historic rates, the work week might average 27 hours by the year 2050. The secular trend away from the formalized work contract to other socially obligatory activities and free time implies numerous challenges for human societies.
I’ve said a lot of negative things over this year.
I’ve complained, I’ve struggled, I’ve theorized about the worst, I’ve reported on the worst news and I’ve generally downplayed positive predictions that the world is, ya know, going anywhere good.
But eventually that becomes unhealthy. As I’ve touched on before with my article about the Swedes (which ironically turned out to be overblown), always expecting the worst and fighting tooth and nail for some sort of anarcho-pessimism isn’t going to get me, or anyone else, very far.
We’re not going to win this fight by always thinking that things are shitty and awful. Because no, not everything is terrible as hard as that is to believe. And believe me, I know it’s hard to believe that sometimes.
This site has grown enormously in the past few years, more than I could ever have hoped for. It has thousands upon thousands of words and possibly hundreds of original works mixed in with classic anti-work texts you may have otherwise had trouble finding.
In the end, this site, as corny as it may sound, is my hope for the future.
And it’s my hope that I can continue writing here for the advancement of leisure-time. So that we may one day not only just work a little over 20 hours a week but eventually none at all. Where we can get paid for our labor (or not) as we please but do it for something we enjoy.
That’s the future I want.
Let’s try to build it in 2016.