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Get to Work If You Want to Be Rich

This article was written by in Wealth and Affluence. 13 comments.


How much time do you spend in front of the television, socializing with friends, or watching movies? I freely admit that I spend too much time watching television. There are certain television programs that entertain me, and particularly during stressful times in my life, I need some type of outlet that makes me laugh, raising my spirits. As a single man living alone, I don’t have the opportunity right now to unwind at the end of the day by spending time with family.

This is, of course, an excuse or a rationalization of why I don’t just spend more time working. A new study, wherein the researchers’ intent was to reevaluate whether the consumption gap between the wealthy and the poor grew alongside the income gap between 1980 and 2010, also has indicated a correlation between education level and leisure time. The authors of the study then make the connection from education level to wealth, when asked by the Wall Street Journal.

Low-educated men saw their leisure hours grow to 39.1 hours in 2003-2007, from 36.6 hours in 1985. Highly-educated men saw their leisure hours shrink to 33.2 hours from 34.4 hours… Low-educated women saw their leisure time grow to 35.2 hours a week from 35 hours. High-educated women saw their leisure time decrease to 30.3 hours from 32.2 hours. Educated women, in other words, had the largest decline in leisure time of the four groups.

Movie marqueeThe higher a person’s level of education, the less time they spend on leisure activities like watching television, going out to see movies in a theater, socializing with friends, talking on the phone, and playing games. The study authors content that as unemployment has grown at a higher rate for lower-education individuals, that factor has contributed to about half of the change in leisure time for that segment of the sample.

How do we get from a measurement of education to a measurement of wealth? The study authors contend that education is a proxy for wealth, as level of education tends to correspond with income. There are probably some pieces missing in this leap from education to wealth in general, but if nothing else, a higher education opens more opportunities for traditional methods of earning income. (There are always counter-examples, with Ivy League dropouts forming companies that go onto being worth many billions of dollars, but that is exceedingly rare.)

No one is pointing to a causality — that working more and spending less time on leisure activities alone — will result in an increase of income. But if there is a correlation, it makes sense. There is, however, a perception that those at the top of the corporate ladder, earning more money, do not “work harder” than rank-and-file employees. On the job, employees during the grunt work may work just as hard or harder as an executive whose primary function seems to be attending meetings and farming out work to his or her underlings while consolidating reports and presenting reports to the Board of Directors, for example. This study doesn’t look at how hard one works at the workplace, but at how much leisure time is used outside of the office.

There is a message: get to work. Those with higher incomes spend less time on activities outside the office that aren’t productive. Family time is excluded, of course. Highly-educated individuals (who we’re assuming are also earning higher incomes) are more likely to spend time at home cooking and caring for children.

Do rich people work harder? Can less time wasted on leisure activities like watching television translate to higher income?

Photo: angeloangelo
Wall Street Journal, National Bureau of Economic Research

Published or updated May 2, 2012. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the RSS feed or receive daily emails. Follow @ConsumerismComm on Twitter and visit our Facebook page for more updates.

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About the author

Luke Landes, also known as Flexo, is the founder of Consumerism Commentary. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about him and follow Luke Landes on Twitter. View all articles by .

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar krantcents

It is no secret successful people spend a lot of time working. Partially because they enjoy what they do and it is usually their own business. Working harder or longer is not a chore because they see results from their efforts.

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avatar Christian L.

Luke,
I agree–for the most part–that rich people earn their income. I’ve always thought that it takes tons of work to get to a point where you’re rich. Then I’ve thought that at that point you can start to minimize the work you do and have people around you help you carry the load. That’s purely my opinion.

Then there are people who inherit the riches. I have a hard time believing the Hilton sisters do much work.

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avatar Steve Mertz

my experience has been that most “rich” people are self employed and work very hard! The smart ones also make it a point to play very hard as well. I confess, sometimes it just feels great vegging in front of the TV ;)

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avatar Jim

I’d assume another major reason is the difference between hourly and salary jobs. High education people end up in salary jobs and low education people get hourly jobs. Most often th hourly jobs are limited to 40 hrs so they don’t have to pay overtime. Theres no limit to how much a salary worker can work. Theres no real reason to think taht working long hours equates to wealth generation. Idealistically we should hope employers will reward hard workers, but as often as not I see businesses assuming all salary workers should work long hours just cause they can get them to do so.

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avatar jim

Flexo, were did you get this bit from? : “Highly-educated individuals (who we’re assuming are also earning higher incomes) are more likely to spend time at home cooking and caring for children.”

The article sourced only cited the amount of leisure time. The actual report isn’t posted for free. Did you buy the full report?

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avatar Luke Landes ♦127,372 (Platinum)

The report includes that information. I think there was another commentary about the report that included that tidbit as well. I’ll add a link for reference once I’m back at my computer.

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avatar jim

OK, no need to go dig it up, I was just curious. I’d be interesting in reading the full report but I guess I’d have to pay so I’ll have to pass.

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avatar Long

Working harder is definitely a point of view thing. Does someone who works in an office 12 hours a day work harder than someone who works construction 8 hours a day?

I do believe that people with higher incomes tend to waste less time on leisure activities that don’t add much value to their lives like TV. I tend to see high income people value activities like travel and experiences more.

When I was young, I never understood why “rich” people used services like assistants, house cleaners, etc. As I get older and gain more and more responsibilities and seek out new and better ways to increase my income, I see the value of outsourcing more and more. It’s not that high-income people are lazy or feel that those chores are beneath them, it’s that they need more time to work or quality time to spend with their families when they are not working.

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avatar qixx ♦1,815 (Half-Dollar)

I think the correlation is missing one key step. The higher the education level the more likely one is to spend additional time learning. Higher education leads to more learning. More learning leads to working smarter. Working smarter leads to higher income. From grunt labor to higher skilled, working smarter i think is the key. An example would be the grunt worker that knows to lift with a dolly or use a lift vs loading a truck by lifting with their back. Working smarter leads to increased productivity so indirectly increased income.

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avatar Ceecee ♦796 (Dime)

I think that this is so true. I know because I find myself sometimes falling into the too much TV zone. I often wonder what my life would be like without TV…..but then there is that other time sucker, the internet! Working from home takes a lot of self-control with a TV and computer in the house.

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avatar Investor Junkie

I agree with the correlation, but also I think it’s critical to not only work harder but also smarter. Working more effectively is critical. What do I mean by this? Here is an example:

I could do the lawn myself, but it’s easier to hire someone to do it than doing it myself. Yes I would in theory save money, but it removes my time from doing other things. This can be productive (ie income producing) or not (ie entertainment or being with my children).

As a business owner it’s critical to know the best allocation of capital.

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avatar Mike Collins

While we’re all entitled to a little time for ourselves to unwind and relax, there is something to be said for making productive use of your time. I have friends who always complain they don’t have enough money but they spend countless hours in front of the tv. I always tell them to watch a little tv and then find something better to do to start earning more money. For me its blogging, but they could also study for certifications or learn new skills to get promoted. It’s just easier to shrug your shoulders and flip channels all night.

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avatar Deacon

Every rich person I know, that is, that has over a million dollars in liquid investable assets, works hard. They want to add value to society and be productive. That has been an inspiration to me and I am very careful on how I spend my time. Enjoyed your post.

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