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.
The 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?
Published or updated May 2, 2012.