Looking back to 1900, we would see that we’re working less, earning more, and we’ve become more productive. In the past scholars concluded the reason for more leisure was more pay.
Now, they have something to add.
Work Leisure Balance
We worked 50% more hours a year in 1900 than now, Correspondingly, we have more leisure time. In a new paper, researchers have agreed with the traditional view that declining wages played a role in boosting leisure time. Now though, they also attribute one third of the increase in leisure to the drop in its cost.
These graphs say it all. Not only were were we working less for a higher wage, but also, the price of recreation plunged:
But there is more to the story.
Television, the computer, and the movies are much cheaper. Since 1950, with a thousand-fold price decline, TVs have become so affordable that many of us have several in our home. Similarly, the price of a computer is down by 50 times from the 1990s. As for the movies, a 1919 black and white silent film would have cost the same as a month of streaming.
One result is a leisure divide. Higher income individuals with more education pay for club memberships and lessons. Timewise, their leisure allocation has remained somewhat stable. A lower income cohort–and especially young men–focus their leisure time on audio and video recreation.
Below, you can see the education divide:
In addition, for women the story is a bit different from men. Since 1960, women are working more hours in the marketplace. But their time spent on home production has diminished:
Our Bottom Line: Complementarity
The connection between leisure time and the price of recreation can explain why both have grown in the U.S. and 41 other OECD countries. Complementary goods and services are “friends.” Like peanut butter and jelly, they go up or down together.
For the complementarity between leisure time and recreation consumption, one example is a subscription to Netflix or Amazon Prime. With recreation less expensive, so too is leisure. Taking the next step, research suggests that cheaper recreation can push work hours down.
So yes, perceiving cheaper media through a new lens, we can see how it has nudged us to work less.
My sources and more: Thanks to Marginal Revolution for alerting me to the work and leisure paper. All of today’s graphs are from this paper.