[lbo-talk] Where Did All the Leisure Go? (was Workers Are on the Job More Hours over the Course of the Year)

Yoshie Furuhashi critical.montages at gmail.com
Tue May 15 07:11:11 PDT 2007

On 5/14/07, Doug Henwood <dhenwood at panix.com> wrote:
> On May 14, 2007, at 2:28 PM, Yoshie Furuhashi wrote:
> > Juliet Schor's The Overworked American: The Unexpected Decline of
> > Leisure (Basic Books) was published in 1992, so when the book came
> > out, it was definitely in keeping with the trend, whether you look at
> > the BLS or the OECD. The trends since then, it seems to me, are
> > results of recession and weak recovery
> Weak recovery? The late 1990s? That was the strongest labor market in
> 30 years. The employment/pop ratio still hasn't returned to its 2000
> high.

I'm thinking of the period from the late 1990s to today, especially mothers during that period:

<http://www.bls.gov/opub/mlr/2007/02/art2abs.htm> February 2007, Vol. 130, No. 2

Trends in labor force participation of married mothers of infants

Sharon R. Cohany Economist, Division of Labor Force Statistics, Bureau of Labor Statistics. E-mail: Cohany.Sharon at bls.gov

Emy Sok Economist, Division of Labor Force Statistics, Bureau of Labor Statistics. E-mail: Sok.Emy at bls.gov

Following a long-term advance, the labor force activity of married mothers of infants began to decline in the late 1990s for a variety of demographic groups and since 2000 has been relatively stable.

<http://www.nytimes.com/2007/04/25/opinion/25hirshman.html> April 25, 2007 Op-Ed Contributor Off to Work She Should Go By LINDA HIRSHMAN


THE United States Bureau of Labor Statistics recently published its long-awaited study, "Trends in Labor Force Participation of Married Mothers of Infants." "In recent years," the number crunchers reported, "the labor force participation of married mothers, especially those with young children, has stopped its advance."

Sixty percent of married mothers of preschool children are now in the work force, four percentage points fewer than in 1997. The rate for married mothers of infants fell by about six percentage points, to 53.5 percent. The bureau further reports that the declines "have occurred across all educational levels and, for most groups, by about the same magnitude."

In sum, sometime well before the 2000 recession, wives with infants and toddlers began leaving the work force. And they stayed out even after the economy began to revive.

For several years, experts have been arguing about the "opt-out" revolution — the perception that there has been an exodus of young mothers from the work force. Heather Boushey of the Center for Economic and Policy Research called the opt-out revolution a myth, and asserted that married mothers don't drop out any more than other women in a bad economy. The new report is strong evidence that something really is going on.

Why are married mothers leaving their jobs? The labor bureau's report includes some commonsense suggestions, but none that fully explains the situation. New mothers with husbands in the top 20 percent of earnings work least, the report notes. As Ernest Hemingway said, the rich do have more money. So they also have more freedom to leave their jobs. But why do they take the option? It's easier in the short term, sure, but it's easier to forgo lots of things, like going to college or having children at all. People don't — nor should they — always do the easier thing.

The authors also speculate that the pressure of working and running a household is great. They do not say, however, that working hours have increased as participation has declined. Educated women, they report, work 42.2 hours a week on average and those with professional degrees, 45 — hardly the "80-hour week" of legend.

Poorer mothers can less afford child care, and because they earn less, their opportunity costs of not working are lower, the authors suggest. But for these women, lost income cuts deeper. And this factor, like the average number of hours worked, has not changed since 1997.

What has changed in the last decade is that the job of motherhood has ramped up. Mothers today spend more time on child care than women did in 1965, a time when mothers were much less likely to have paying jobs, family scholars report.

The pressure to increase mothering is enormous. For years, women have been on the receiving end of negative messages about parenting and working. One conservative commentator said the lives of working women added up to "just a pile of pay stubs." When the National Institute of Child Health reported recently that long hours in day care added but a single percentage point to the still-normal range of rambunctious behavior in children, newspaper headlines read, "Day Care, Behavior Problems Linked in Study."

Should we care if women leave the work force? Yes, because participation in public life allows women to use their talents and to powerfully affect society. And once they leave, they usually cannot regain the income or status they had. The Center for Work-Life Policy, a research organization founded by Sylvia Ann Hewlett of Columbia, found that women lose an average of 18 percent of their earning power when they temporarily leave the work force. Women in business sectors lose 28 percent.

And despite the happy talk of "on ramps" back in, only 40 percent of even high-powered professionals get back to full-time work at all.

That the most educated have opted out the most should raise questions about how our society allocates scarce educational resources. The next generation of girls will have a greatly reduced pool of role models.

But what is to be done? Organizations like Moms Rising and the Mothers Movement Online have stepped up the pressure for reforms like flexible work hours and paid parental leave. Such changes probably would help lower-income women in the most unforgiving workplaces. But they are unlikely to affect the behavior of the highly educated women with the highest opt-out rates.

We could make an effort to change men's attitudes. Sociologists have found that mothers (rich and poor) still do twice the housework and child care that fathers do, and even the next generation of males say they won't sacrifice work for home. But in the short term, it might be easier to change the tax code.

In most American marriages, wives earn less than their husbands. Since the tax code encourages joint filing (by making taxes lower for those who do), many couples figure that the "extra" dollars the wife brings in will be piled on top of the husband's income and taxed at the highest rates, close to 50 percent, according to estimates made by Ed McCaffery, a tax professor at the University of Southern California. Considering the cost of child care, couples often conclude that her working adds nothing to the family treasury.

If married couples were taxed as the separate income earners they often are, women would be liberated from some of the pressure to reduce their "labor force participation," as the labor bureau would say.

Labor statistics are always couched in such dry language, but it reveals a powerful reality: working mothers, rich and poor, struggle with their competing commitments. Now that we have seen the reality, it is time to address it.

Linda Hirshman is the author of "Get to Work: A Manifesto for Women of the World."

> But the more recent threadlet was about absolute levels of leisure,
> and at 4-5 hours a day, that's a long way from the sweatshop.

Comparison that US activists and scholars making an issue of time have in mind is not with sweatshop workers but with workers in the other OECD nations. What matters especially is paid holidays and vacations, for unemployment without peace of mind is not leisure worth its name. It's one thing to work 1,600 hours per year with no paid holidays and vacations; it's quite another thing to work the same hours with 6 weeks of paid holidays and vacations per year.

On 5/14/07, Miles Jackson <cqmv at pdx.edu> wrote:
> I still insist that households/families are working more wage labor
> hours than they were in the 1960s. The data that James provides
> obscure this fact by treating the individual worker as the unit of
> analysis. The household unit is under far more significant time
> pressures than households a generation or two ago.

Check this out: Valerie A. Ramey and Neville Francis, "A Century of Work and Leisure," May 2006, <http://www.econ.ucsd.edu/~vramey/research/Historical_Hours.pdf>

<http://www.nber.org/digest/feb07/w12264.html> Where Did All the Leisure Go?

"While leisure per capita has varied over the last 105 years and has exhibited some low frequency movements, it is the same now as it was 105 years ago."

Considering rising business productivity and the spread of labor saving household appliances, Americans today must have far more leisure than their counterparts in 1900, right? Well, maybe not. It depends on how you measure work and leisure and which sectors of the population are included in the analysis.

In A Century of Work and Leisure (NBER Working Paper No. 12264 [LINK: <http://papers.nber.org/papers/w12264> or <http://www.econ.ucsd.edu/~vramey/research/Historical_Hours.pdf>]), Valerie Ramey and Neville Francis take a fresh look at work versus leisure trends through the twentieth century. They conclude that some 70 percent of the decline in hours worked has been offset by an increase in hours spent in school. Further, contrary to conventional wisdom, average hours spent in "home production" - that is, cooking, cleaning, caring for children, and the like - are actually slightly higher now than they were in the early part of the last century. Meanwhile, leisure per capita is approximately the same now as it was in 1900.

Some busy couples, with both spouses working, may not find these findings so surprising. But they would likely be a surprise to the famed British economist, John Maynard Keynes, who predicted in a 1930 essay -- "Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren" -- that rising productivity would result in a large increase in leisure during the next hundred years. And, he speculated that the central problem for humanity would be using its abundant leisure time in a meaningful way.

Several studies do support the Keynes' forecast. For instance, Maddison shows that hours worked per employed person in the United States have fallen from around 2,700 a year to almost 1,600 a year in the last 105 years. But Ramey and Francis regard such studies as telling only part of the story, since they omit changes in labor force participation rates and in non-leisure activities. They argue that their study involves "more comprehensive and better measurements of hours of non-leisure time and the potential workforce."

For example, rather than using the "working age" population -- that is the civilian non-institutional (not in prison or otherwise incarcerated) population aged 16 and over -- Ramey and Francis use the total population in most of their study. That's because the restrictions on child labor have changed so much over the last hundred years. Children were important workers on family farms early last century; that explains why school vacations, even today, are long and in the summer. In 1910, the Census showed that 25 percent of male children aged 10 to 15 were employed.

"To the extent that the representative household cares about all of its members, interactions between different age groups may be important for understanding trends in adult leisure," Ramey and Francis add. Further, the fraction of the population aged 65 and over has risen from 4 percent in 1900 to more than 12 percent in 2000. That too has an impact on hours of leisure.

The authors also regard as relevant the hours of work of government employees (teachers, civil servants, and so on), the time spent commuting to and from work, the time spent in formal education, and the time spent in home production. They use surveys asking individuals to rate their enjoyment of various activities and classify as leisure those with the highest enjoyment scores, including sex, playing sports, playing with or reading to the kids, art, music, movies, sleep, reading, recreational travel, and so on -- all activities that give direct enjoyment. They classify as work baby care, gardening, a second job, cooking, basic child care, care of other adults, doing homework, pet care, housework, grocery shopping, home repair, paying bills, laundry, yard work, and so on.

The authors admit that there is a "degree of imprecision" in some of their estimates, especially for the early part of the last century and for home production. For instance, they include hours worked by sole proprietors and their unpaid family members working with them. The authors assume, too, that commuting time in the early part of the twentieth century was the same as later in the century -- that is, about 10 percent of total hours worked, since in those early days most people worked on Saturdays.

Hours spent on education have risen, of course, as attendance in secondary schools has become the standard. Over the century, school hours rose from 330 per year to almost 900 per year for those ages 5 to 22.

In looking at housework, the authors rely on a host of studies. They note that early in the last century, "Having clean clothes, clean dishes, a clean house, and well-cared for children was just another luxury the poor could not afford." For the poor, many meals consisted of simple, unheated foods. Working-class families often could not afford the fuel to cook. The authors also quote Betty Friedan, writing in her 1963 book, The Feminine Mystique: "housewifery expands to fill the time available." Labor saving appliances were used to help bring about a revolution in sanitation, cleanliness, and better nutrition. Also, educated parents spend more time with their children.

The surprising conclusion here is: "While leisure per capita has varied over the last 105 years and has exhibited some low frequency movements, it is the same now as it was 105 years ago.

-- David R. Francis -- Yoshie

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