Following up my post on consumption and living standards in the US, there was a fair bit of discussion at CT of what’s been happening to leisure. Juliet Schor and others have argued that the long-term trend towards reduced hours of work and more leisure reversed some time in the 1970s, and people have been working harder since then. A study by Aguair and Hurst (the final QJE article is subscription-only, but I found a preliminary version here) has been widely quoted as proving the opposite (here, for example, by Tyler Cowen) and the abstract seems to support this interpretation, saying “We find that a dramatic increase in leisure time lies behind the relatively stable number of market hours worked between 1965 and 2003.”
However the data periods don’t exactly match up. It turns out that, using any of the definitions of leisure considered by Aguair and Hurst, the majority of the increase in leisure time took place between 1965 and 1975, and most measures show little change since 1985.
There’s an important gender/family dimension too. On Aguair and Hurst measures 1 and 2 (which exclude child care), leisure time for women peaked in 1985 and has declined since then, while leisure time for men has been pretty much stationary.
So that readers can make their own comparisons, I’ve extracted the relevant table, which is over the fold. I’d say it matches Schor’s story (increasing leisure until the late 70s followed by a decline) at least as well as that suggested by the authors (dramatic long-term increases in leisure)
There’s lots more data in the Aguiar and Hirst paper and one point worth noting is that the trend in the distribution of leisure time is the opposite of that in income. High income, high education people have experienced a significant decline in leisure relative to those with low income and low education. That somewhat offsets the growth in inequality I’ve been talking about. Also, combined with the gender pattern I already mentioned, it almost certainly means that educated women have, on average, less leisure than in the late 1970s.