A few years ago, the economists Mark Aguiar and Erik Hurst published a survey of how American work and leisure had evolved between 1965 and 2005. Both men and women had more leisure time — although nothing like as much as Keynes had expected. But some people defied this trend. The best educated and the highest earners, both men and women, had less free time than ever. Starting in the mid 1980s, this elite began to drop everything and work furiously.
Pointer from Mark Thoma.
What Harford does not mention is what I think is the most important trend, which is the drop in “home production.” We are making much better use of our non-work time, because we enjoy genuine leisure rather than doing unpaid tasks that we do not like.
Several decades ago, when an economist colleague bragged about building a deck on his house, I pronounced the aphorism “Do-it-yourself is a market failure.” He should have been able to earn more income by working more hours as an economist, and then pay someone else to build the deck. But he worked in a fixed-salary position for an employer that did not allow outside consulting.
The main trend is that people are doing less unpleasant work. As Harford notes, some people now enjoy their jobs. People are doing less unpaid housework (as I write this, a paid worker is mowing my lawn). Many people whose unpleasant jobs have been “lost” are now out of the labor force.