Having lots of leisure time used to be a status symbol that differentiated the wealthiest people from the middle and lower classes in the US.
But things have changed.
Researchers at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth found that those who work more than 40 to 45 hours a week were mainly in “highly-paid professional positions” like lawyers, architects, and engineers, The Week reports.
Those the least likely to work long hours held low-income roles in industries like healthcare, office support, and food preparation and serving.
The ability to work above and beyond 40 hours a week is now a status symbol.
Thirty years ago, blue-collar workers tended to pull the longest days. According to a 2014 article in The Economist, “one of the many perks of being a salaried employee was a fairly manageable and predictable work-week, some long lunches and the occasional round of golf.”
This trend goes against what economist John Maynard Keynes thought our future would look like. In his widely cited 1930 essay, “Economic possibilities for our grandchildren,” Keynes predicted that the workforce would move toward “three-hour shifts or a fifteen-hour week,” adding that the US could “look forward to the age of leisure and abundance without a dread.”
The Equitable Growth study points to rising economic inequality, and the feelings of financial insecurity that result, as a main reason Keynes’ prediction hasn’t come true. The 2008 recession prompted a lot of employers to downsize their staffs, a trend that had been prevalent for several decades, but worsened when the financial crisis hit.
The decrease in the number of workers meant that employers expected more from their remaining employees. As finding work became more difficult, “many salaried workers lost the bargaining power to demand compensation for the increase in hours,” according to the report.
Additionally, research by Linda Bell of Barnard College and Richard Freeman of Harvard University, which was cited in the study, concluded that in the US, “working long hours may be motivated by larger relative rewards of overtime pay or promotions (as well as the financial hardship they may face if they do not adhere to the occupational norm).”
There are many employees who want to put in longer hours, but are unable to do so because their employers hire and fire “sporadically and chaotically” due to the excess supply of workers available. This particular situation is especially prevalent in lower-income service sectors. As The Week reports, “access to longer hours” is a privilege.