Less Work Time = More TV, Grooming Time

What would we do with our time if we suddenly didn’t have to work as much but were just as healthy and had the same income? This question is ages-old, was posed by Keynes in 1930, but is very hard to answer:  sudden, permanent drops in work time that change nothing else are very rare. They did occur in Japan in the 1990s and Korea in the 2000s, when their governments induced employers to cut work hours.  In a recent paper Jungmin Lee, Daiji Kawaguchi and I use time diaries from before and after the changes to see what happened.  In Japan, almost half the free time was devoted to additional TV-watching, while in Korea, much was devoted to increased personal care, particularly grooming. But in neither was there any increase in home production — child care, cooking, gardening, etc. I like to think the same would occur in the U.S. — that we would use permanent cuts in work time to enjoy ourselves and take more care of ourselves.  Regrettably in the workaholism champion of the Western world, these cuts don’t seem likely any time soon.

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  1. Elizabeth says:

    Sleep, definitely more sleep.

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  2. Kevin says:

    I would like to think I would work another job or peruse entrepreneurial endeavors if this was a 40-50% reduction. If it was just “less hours” (10-20%) I would probably enjoy the fact that I had more daylight hours to burn outside of the office and would end up spending more time with hobbies or self improvement.

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  3. Colin says:

    I am fascinated by how little vacation time is standard in the US. In Australia, pretty much every salaried job comes with 4 weeks paid leave. At my last job, I got a little over 11 weeks of paid leave each year (plus sick leave, long service leave, etc.). Given the choice of a 2-3% raise, or an extra week off, I would take the extra week off, it seems that many US workers would take the money.

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    • Dan says:

      Most US workers aren’t given either…unfortunately when US workers are given time off it’s usually in the form of a “pink slip” (lay off).

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    • Joe J says:

      11 weeks off per year? We wonder how things get done at work when on your first day you can say, I’ll see ya in 3 months.

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  4. Dan says:

    Japan and Korea are both demographically dying countries with among the lowest birth rates in the entire world.

    The cultures that spend their free time with only TV watching and grooming won’t continue themselves so I suppose this is just temporary and not a permanent trend.

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    • Josh says:

      Dan, with all due respect, USA is not what you would call demographically dying, and we spend incredible amounts of hours in front of the TV, so much so that ads for a single event such as the super bowl are very expensive. Furthermore, women and some men may spend upwards of $40 a week on nail care alone.

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  5. morco says:

    I would definitely read a lot more, do more exercise and spend more time with my children.

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    • Enter your name... says:

      I don’t know how plausible the “exercise” item is. A couple years ago, they ran an experiment in which people’s TV time was halved (first measure how much TV the person watches in a typical week, then install a time lock that disables the TV after half that amount). They’d hoped that everyone would go exercise. However, almost no one did. Instead, people played board games with the kids, cleaned the house, and did piles of projects (like putting old snapshots into photo albums) that they’d “never had time for”.

      (Most of the people were happy with the changes in their lives.)

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  6. Stephen says:

    Fishing, definitely more time on the water fishing…

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  7. Tim Truett says:

    Really interesting! Four years ago I came into enough money to retire from a very busy law practice. I moved to Europe, have watched substantially less TV, traveled several times a year to places only dreamed of, started cooking seriously, increased my gardening, started an exercise program, and began reading as I’ve only had preached to me in the past. I’ve started listening to college lectures via iTunes and generally believe my interest & curiosity levels have leaped far ahead of where I began. I’ve become truly amazed by how little I know and how much I’d like to learn. I doubt my time can be termed “productive” in that it has created no income for me, only for airlines and Amazon. This said, I truly recommend this course of living if you are fortunate (or in my case unfortunate) enough to do so. Life is an incredible adventure that must be taken advantage of wherever possible.

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  8. Timmy D says:

    In the case of Japan and Korea these are only marginal changes in work time not large increases that would allow for dramatic life changing adjustments in activities. Plus, I know at least in Japan the changes in law probably had less of an influence on working hours than expected as many employers expect employees to do “sabisu zangyo” or unreported and uncompensated overtime. Labour laws in Japan are rarely enforced and vacation days for the most part go unused.

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    • Dan says:

      You have that right. Japan has a Kamikaze culture where people seem to have a hard time examining themselves from the outside.

      I work for the US Patent Office, where I can telework most of the time like many patent examiners. At an international conference I met three Japanese patent examiners, none of whom could even imagine teleworking because it would represent an insufficient commitment to the job or something like that.

      My wife and I will soon be welcoming our fourth into the world. One of the three Japanese patent examiners I met had one child, while the other two were childless.

      I am convinced that the simultaneous demographic collapse of much of the developed world starting in the 1960s will be one of the biggest events of human civilization, dwarfing most other events across the millenia. What is amazing is that it looks as though we are still in the early innings of this demographic implosion, and where it leads is completely unclear. People looking back will wonder how we talked about anything else.

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