Slate has an article entitled The Theory of the Leisure Class - An economic mystery: Why do the poor seem to have more free time than the rich? Bloggers have spoken into the issue with various ideas. One idea is that there's less motivation for lower-income workers to work overtime, because the pay is less per hour. A more plausible answer was put forward by a few people: Many hourly workers are not allowed to work more than 40 hours, and often not even that many.
I was thinking of a different angle on this article when I read it - wasn't going to look at the why of the issue. I was thinking - which is better? Is it better to have money or time?
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, two things have happened. First, leisure (like income) has increased dramatically across the board. Second, though everyone's a winner, the biggest winners are at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder.
A small part of those gains is because of demographic change. The average American is older now and has fewer children, so it's not surprising that he or she works less. But even when you compare modern Americans to their 1965 counterparts—people with the same family size, age, and education—the gains are still on the order of 4 to 8 hours a week, or something like seven extra weeks of leisure per year.
But not for everyone. 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. (Once again, your gains are measured in comparison to a person who, in 1965, had the same characteristics that you have today.) 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.
Would you prefer to be the one who gained the income or gained the time at home with family & friends? Here's another article to throw some more ideas at that question.
Yahoo Finance has a column discussing a survey about finances, time, and happiness. How much do we need to be happy? Do we need more money or more time? On the money end, the article says, "Nearly 80 percent of U.S. adults say they need more money to feel financially comfortable, and more than a quarter would have to double -- or more than double -- their current income to achieve that goal, according to a new Yahoo! Finance/Harris Interactive survey." So people want more money, need more money to be happy, or so they say. Why, then, would they give that up for time?
How much would people sacrifice to spend an extra hour a day with family or loved ones? A quarter would only give up 5 percent of their salary; 15 percent would sacrifice 10 percent of their income; 4 percent would give up 20 percent of pay; and 5 percent would tolerate a cut of more than 20 percent.There's even an organization that works to fight this time-poverty.
The group who most desired time rather than the money? Men age 45 to 54, with 61 percent reporting they would make the tradeoff. "We're one of few nations in the world without a mandatory vacation policy or a maximum limit on the amount of overtime you can ask someone to work," says Kasser. "We're time-poverty-stricken."
Kasser has conducted a variety of studies that found people who are "time affluent" are happier than those who are materially affluent. "Time-affluent people had more time to spend engaged in activities focused on personal growth, friends, and family and contributing to community" -- all essential factors in happiness, he explains.
As for me, I feel rich in both areas. Money-wise, we have enough and are content, and time-wise, we're coming off a great week with lots of time to visit with friends and family. We keep being warned left and right- "Don't get a puppy, they take so much time!", "Don't hurry up and have kids, they take so much time! cherish this time.", "Don't go hurry and buy a house, you'll have less free time!" I know we're in a place in life right now that is allowing us to have the most flexible schedule we'll possibly ever have. I want to not take it for granted, enjoy it, and use it wisely.