Sunday, March 11, 2007

Being busy

Hal Varian claims that leisure time has not increased in the US for the past 105 years. Varian's comments are based on a paper by Ramey and Francis, where leisure is defined as time spent doing things that yield direct enjoyment such as sex, sport and playing with children.

Varian notes:
‘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’.
For example 70% of the decline in hours worked has been offset by an increase in hours spent at school and average hours spent in home production (including housework) are actually slightly higher now than in the early 20th century, Housework has increased because the demand for cleanliness has risen strongly with income.

This work is interesting since it bears on the extent to which we feel ‘busy’ but the background implicit assumption, that leisure, as defined, is a measure of well-being is questionable.

In most professional occupations the distinction between work and leisure is blurred. Rupert Murdoch gave as a reason for the collapse of his last marriage to Anna Murdoch that he was not prepared to abandon work for retirement and golf. Indeed, apart from having to attend mind-numbing meetings, I quite enjoy my own job as an academic. It is also obvious that kids going to school have also got to be better-off than doing paid labour in a factory. And both men and women get benefits from living in clean environments and having the opportunity to be creative in food and beverage preparation.

The fact is that we all engage in some form of activity 24 hours per day – sleep, eating, making love, working and going to school. Thge number of hoours in a day hasn't changed in the past 105 years. In that sense we are always busy. The point is to not be frenetic – to plan and prioritize your life and to avoid using the excuse of ‘being busy’. There are better indicators of welfare than an ambiguous measure of leisure.

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