Bad News: Higher Income = Less Leisure Time?

51 Comments

There may be no such thing as too much money, but there is certainly such a thing as too little time.

How does one of my best friends make several $100,000 USD per year as an investment banker but have less than two hours per month for his dream car, which sits gathering dust in his garage?

Let’s look at the numbers…

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…when you compare modern Americans to their 1965 counterparts—people with the same family size, age, and education—the [leisure time] gains are still on the order of 4 to 8 hours a week, or something like seven extra weeks of leisure per year.

But not for everyone. About 10 percent of us are stuck in 1965, leisurewise. At the opposite extreme, 10 percent of us have gained a staggering 14 hours a week or more. (Once again, your gains are measured in comparison to a person who, in 1965, had the same characteristics that you have today.) By and large, the biggest leisure gains have gone precisely to those with the most stagnant incomes—that is, the least skilled and the least educated. And conversely, the smallest leisure gains have been concentrated among the most educated, the same group that’s had the biggest gains in income.

Aguiar and Hurst can’t explain fully that rising inequality, just as nobody can explain fully the rising inequality in income. But there are, I think, two important morals here.

First, man does not live by bread alone. Our happiness depends partly on our incomes, but also on the time we spend with our friends, our hobbies, and our favorite TV shows. So, it’s a good exercise in perspective to remember that by and large, the big winners in the income derby have been the small winners in the leisure derby, and vice versa.

Second, a certain class of pundits and politicians are quick to see any increase in income inequality as a problem that needs fixing—usually through some form of redistributive taxation. Applying the same philosophy to leisure, you could conclude that something must be done to reverse the trends of the past 40 years—say, by rounding up all those folks with extra time on their hands and putting them to (unpaid) work in the kitchens of their “less fortunate” neighbors. If you think it’s OK to redistribute income but repellent to redistribute leisure, you might want to ask yourself what—if anything—is the fundamental difference.

From economist Steven Landsburg

Related Links:

The Karmic Capitalist: Should I Wait Until I’m Rich to Give Back?
Wealthier Than Thou: Is it enough to be rich, or must others be poor?

Chapter 2 – Rules That Change the Rules: Everything Popular is Wrong
Mail Your Child to Sri Lanka or Hire Indian Pimps: Extreme Personal Outsourcing

Odds and Ends:

Tim Ferriss one of Fast Company’s Most Innovative Business People of 2007
USA Today Cites 4HWW in #2 Trend for 2008

Tim interviewed in Japan’s Nikkan Gendai

Posted on: January 8, 2008.

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51 comments on “Bad News: Higher Income = Less Leisure Time?

  1. “If you think it’s OK to redistribute income but repellent to redistribute leisure, you might want to ask yourself what—if anything—is the fundamental difference.”

    Great point. Although, the people who love high progressive taxation will ignore the real point being made and plunge on with their love affair with big government.

    All I can say is “Go Ron Paul!”

    Like

  2. Tim – I can relate. I’m in the investment banking biz and I make several hundred grand per year. I see a lot of folks in this business buying fancy cars, houses, etc and they have no time to enjoy life outside of the office. I think people get addicted to the business and forget about their kids. It is quite sad. I LOVED your book and I am using the strategies to reduce the amount of time this job requires, and I give it all back to my family.

    Cheers.

    Like

  3. Great post, Tim. I suppose each of us has that question to ask ourselves how much is enough in each category of our lives, and where that amount should level. I know some people who are “well off” by most standards of today but are utterly miserable with their lifestyles.

    Congratulations on “most innovative business person”! When I see the points you make, it appears that it is from the less-than-obvious observations on our lifestyles, where it was, and where its going, and making the logical assumptions of how our lifestyles are ever changing. I can picture you being hit by a huge epiphony when it all began.

    In that case, you should also get the “best epiphony” award. Provided this award does not greet you within the year, I will cook something up in photoshop and send it your way. :)

    Like

  4. The studies I hear about on leisure time seem to be in conflict with all that I hear about television consumption. It seems we average 28 hours per week watching TV yet we have hardly any leisure time [http://www.csun.edu/science/health/docs/tv&health.html]. I venture to say the reason we’re unhappy and less fulfilled is because we spend our leisure time doing things that only distract us from the work we hate.

    Stop watching TV (low information diet) and you’ve freed up the equivalent to 36, 40 hour work weeks.

    Like

  5. Interesting points, I would rather see a graph of the ratio of “Unused Income” to leisure time. It would seem ironic to work more, make more (in terms of money that you don’t spend), and not have the free time. It might be more to the point that the reality is a 100K person is still expending 100K a year, this may be a driver for some to stay on the treadmill? If the 100K person was expending only 50K a year then I bet the treadmill would quickly slow down, or after a gathering period stop altogether. I don’t think the real trick is making more money, and IMHO, I don’t think it is gaining more free time either, I think the simple trick is trying to make sure that if you are on a treadmill its at least one you somewhat like, and if you can try and create a ratio with a large enough difference in income to expenditure so that you can maximize your choices to get off a treadmill when you want.

    Like

  6. hi tim,

    these are the types of articles and conversations that need to be shared more often. glad to see that educating is on the top of your list. being a colombian american, having lived in europe, hong kong, and australia, and traveling around the world with a backpack makes you reassess how valuable your time and life is. for the longest time i thought i was the only one thinking this.

    love the fact that you are an ‘aficionado del tango’. have you considered ‘cumbia colombiana’?

    cheers!

    olga

    Like

  7. “If you think it’s OK to redistribute income but repellent to redistribute leisure, you might want to ask yourself what—if anything—is the fundamental difference.”

    The difference is, as you stated earlier, “By and large, the biggest leisure gains have gone precisely to those with the most stagnant incomes—that is, the least skilled and the least educated.”

    I suspect the “least skilled and the least educated” are still smart enough to recognize when they’re not getting ahead. If you were making $10/hr, would *you* trade going to your daughter’s dance recital for an extra $14 (after taxes)?

    Those with skill and education have the option either to work more and get paid handsomely for it, or to trade the extra income for more leisure time. Lots of people don’t have that option. And since there’s *no way* they’re going to get rich, they insist on the compensation they *can* get: their time.

    ###

    Hi Drew. I’m citing someone else, so it’s not me who wrote the bulk of this post. I just thought it would be a good thought-provoker :)

    But thank you for contributing!

    Tim

    Like

  8. Dude!!! Your book rocks!!!

    My life is already better having just finished reading your book. At best, my previous (somewhat vague) plan for financial freedom has been reduced from twenty years to one year. At worst, it will take me five years. You just saved me 15-19 years of my life bro!!!

    Thanks for writing such an excellent and life changing book.

    Regards
    Adam
    Sydney, Australia

    Like

  9. I read a really good article recently that talked about the rising inequality in income as being a bit misleading. The reason for this is that the cost of many goods and services have fallen so much in the past couple of decades. For instance, a solidly middle class couple might now be able to afford a 50 inch plasma because they’re relatively cheap whereas a while back they may have struggled to purchase a 25 inch TV.

    A Whole New Mind is a great read on this sort of thing and why people are increasingly seeking meaning in their life and work given how materially abundant we are.

    Like

  10. Tim, you can pick better articles than this. People today work significantly more than they did in 1965. Maybe Landsburg counts anything done off the clock as leisure. If that’s the case then the people finishing their workday emails at Starbucks are just sipping coffee… yeah, right. Plus the assertion that leisure time is not having a job or being in between jobs by virtue of the fact of being the least skilled or educated is just plain ludicrous. Economists like Landsburg probably see prison as “leisure time” too. As for progressive taxation I guess you’d have to blame it on that old marxist Adam Smith when he first proposed it in “The Wealth of Nations”. Keep up the good work.

    Like

  11. With Twitter, Tim isn’t succumbing to some evil force to take up his time. The whole ideology behind 4HWW is to use your time the way you want to use it. If it’s Twitter for Tim as well as everything else… then go ahead Tim!

    I like the Twitter widget, although I’m not a convert yet.

    Like

  12. You’re right, everyone should get the leisure time they’re owed. Except in your example, that would correspond to everyone contributing their portion of the taxes based on what they get out of it. But we all live in the same places and under the same government, and all are contributing differently. The lady who says “I had my second kid to get the money for the first one” probably isn’t pulling her weight in that regard. Probably isn’t getting much leisure time raising two kids by herself though. Maybe the system’s already in place! =)

    Like

  13. I think the reason is clear and at the risk of sounding like a raving Marxist, I’d say it’s corporate greed.

    The promise of new technology was that it would increase leisure time for the benefit of all. That turned out to be only half true. There is more leisure time but it is unevenly distributed: some people are unemployed and others are working 80 hour weeks.

    Corporations, under the mantra ‘reduce headcount’, constantly try to squeeze out more work from fewer people. How many friends do you have, who already work 12 hours days, who are trying to cope with further downsizing of their teams? Lots.

    I’m not sure what mechanism could be employed to redistribute leisure time when the sacred free market created the situation in the first place.

    Like

  14. I think you only have to look at the trends of people opting for a ‘sea change’ or turning their back on the corporate world for a more frugal life (but one where they get to see their kids) to see that for most people, more money = less time.

    But I don’t think that it needs to be that all or nothing approach, but to maintain a great level of income (whatever that is for you) and live the kind of life you’d be proud of means you’ll be swimming against the stream. So many corporates begin earning their dream paycheck only to give in to the pressure to accumulate more and more crap that will keep them chained to the 9-5 for life.

    Thanks Tim (and others out there like you) for introducing the ideas (and living the examples) that there is another way.

    Tara

    Like

  15. Hi All!

    Thanks for the great dialog and comments.

    Regarding Twitter, I haven’t gone to the “dark side” by any stretch!

    I’m experimenting with Twitter and another cool tool coming soon to keep in touch with you guys on things that aren’t worth clogging your RSS feeds with.

    Soooo… for example, if I’m going to a party last-minute and want to extend an open invite to you guys, Twitter would be a good avenue.

    We’ll see where it goes, but it’s all a micro-test, as you’d expect :)

    Pura vida — off to Sabbia in La Barra,

    Tim

    Like

  16. GOOD NEWS: WE NOW ARE AWARE OF THIS PLAGUE!

    Interesting experiment I am conducting. Interviewing the everyday 9-5ERS!!!!!! They can tell you why they work so much. I will post my results. But, my guess is that it is probably for a few reasons; financial obligations, THINGS TO BUY, and the Misconception that money will give you more time. If you look back at even the Stone Age, were they less happy back in their time compared to the senior broker that works 65 hrs at some firm? People should have interviews for leisure time jobs? They should be interviewing the job markets. You could start by saying, ” Yes the pay sounds great, but how many extra days are you going to try to get me to work?” JK : ) Though it might not be such a bad idea.
    Moreover, an excess of work/stress can cause high blood pressure and other negative aliments. Does, 300k sound appealing with the double by pass surgery? Live your life with moderation!

    Oh,

    I found this online, thought it might be of interest to some,

    Odland isn’t the only CEO to have made this discovery. Rather, it seems to be one of those rare laws of the land that every CEO learns on the way up. It’s hard to get a dozen CEOs to agree about anything, but all interviewed agree with the Waiter Rule.

    They acknowledge that CEOs live in a Lake Wobegon world where every dinner or lunch partner is above average in their deference. How others treat the CEO says nothing, they say. But how others treat the waiter is like a magical window into the soul.

    And beware of anyone who pulls out the power card to say something like, “I could buy this place and fire you,” or “I know the owner and I could have you fired.” Those who say such things have revealed more about their character than about their wealth and power.(USA TODAY)

    PURA VIDA SIEMPRE!!!!!!!!!!!

    Jose Castro-Frenzel

    Like

  17. i just completed an entire year out and i’m wealthier at the end of it than I have ever been… increase your time, stay focussed on what you love doing, take your opportunities and watch the good times role.

    Like

  18. Great Post! I think there is a fine line that each person must draw for themselves. I know people who make a lot of money and spend countless hours working. They enjoy their work and they don’t seem to be giving anything up by not having as much leisure time. Personally I would rather not make as much money if I had more time for myself.

    One of the commenters remarked about people watching a lot of TV and how reducing this could free up your time. I partially agree with this in that 2 hours a day for tv could easily translate into time on a leisure activity (but then again isn’t watching some TV supposed to be a leisure activity?). Giving up TV time to spend it on a hobby is one thing but giving it up to work is completely out of the question.

    Like

  19. Tim,

    PRODUCTIVE VS. NON-PRODUCTIVE SLEEP

    As a mentor of yours, and a student of the new rich, I often find myself asking how much sleep is truly necessary until unwanted side effects begin to manifest.

    I am an athlete, and I rely on your principles to have the time & money to train, and travel the country to compete. That being said, when it comes time to work on my businesses my sleep time is often on the chopping block.

    How about an article on how much sleep one truly needs, I think in todays caffeinated go-go-go society the story would have relevance to your readers.

    Like

  20. Hey Tim… I had the same reaction as Andre and Peter above: Twitter?? But now that you explained it, ugh, another tool I have to get to know to figure out what you are up to these days :)

    Hope you are enjoying your mini and looking forward to more posts!

    Erik

    Like

  21. Pardon my ignorance, is there a way to edit what I post here? Like a missspelling for instance?

    ###

    Hi Bill,

    I’m afraid it doesn’t seem possible. Feel free to repost with a correction — no worries. We’re all human and make mistakes.

    All the best,

    Tim

    Like

  22. One of the biggests points for me in 4HWW. We’re compelled to choose a profession when we grow up, but not what we’d really like to spend our time doing.

    After 23 years on the rat race spending most of my day in front of a computer, keeping a focus on the income part of life and paying very little attention to leisure, your ideas and your way of summing them up are a transforming experience for me. Luckily I’d say they arrived in the right time.

    Big fan. Thanks for sharing your life outlook so beautifully. Moltes gràcies.

    Like

  23. Post request: Tim, I wonder if you have any insights for people who work in services?

    I know in the book you moved away from services but I love the service I perform (self-employed. recording & mixing records) yet want to outsource what I can. In my case I really love spending time performing the service (I also consider it my art) but have traditionally thought I’d need to hire staff to do the time consuming parts I don’t like: invoicing, maintaining CRM database, researching equipment, updating business plan, ordering CDs, etc. I just started with Getfriday for some new client research & that went great. I’m continually surprised how much I can outsource the more I look at what I’m doing and ask “Is it necessary for ME to do this?” I’d always assumed hiring staff wouldn’t be affordable.

    The balance I’m trying to strike in a shrinking recording market: perform my service well (and continue loving that part of the job), continually innovate in my field to beat the competition, yet 4HWW-style only do what I need to do & outsource the rest.

    Any magic advice & strategies would be greatly appreciated.

    take care,
    Bill

    Like

  24. What’s the point of having so much money that you can’t enjoy? Having that big house, fast car means nothing if you don’t even have time to slow down and smell the roses. Your housekeeper would be very happy though, as he/she can walk your dog, use your house facilities and earn money at the sametime while looking after your house. I rather earn a little bit less while still enjoying my life!

    Like

  25. I wonder if time itself is the biggest single obstacle in life. Not the stuff that seem to be the obstacles for time. But time itself and fear of what we could do and be if we had it.

    eg:
    “I hate getting older”
    “I only have 5 minutes to complete…xyz”
    “if I don’t pick them up by…, then….”
    “If I quit my job I won’t know what to do with myself!”
    “if I have the time, I won’t have the money”

    After all, EVERYTHING in life is a function of time. Every single thing. Even birth and even death. Therefore, Tim I absolutely agree that’s it’s imperative to revaluate one’s relationship with time, from being ‘against’ it to being in harmony with it.

    My story is simple. I hated my graduate position working for a firm. I decided my time was more valuable. When I made that choice to appreciate time with my feet, (that is to no longer go work there), my life became time rich and dynamic.

    As wanky as it sounds, I’ve made time my friend. I choose to value it above all else. At 28, I’m happy to be older, because I feel I’ve done so much more in my time than the average person my age. It’s excititng! I own 3 eBusinesses, work on creative projects I love (like my own TV show), spend quality time with my loved ones and I’m writing my thesis.
    All because I started to value time, and interestingly enough, money THEN followed. Go figure.

    I really agree that for happiness, one needs to tune into their relationship with time, and value it above all else.

    Like

  26. P.s. I just realised, literally, as I was typing just now that:
    1. ‘LIFE’ has an ‘IF’ in the middle of it, suggesting that life’s unpredictability is inherent in the word (so we should embrace it!). AND

    2. TIME has ‘TIM’ and ‘ME’ in it, which means that TIME equals the combined efforts of TIM’s suggestions and ME! Viola! soooo simple, yet spooky wooky :-) haha.
    (All this is only apparent to me as it’s almost 2:30 am and my brainwaves are warping into theta state. That, and one too many Scrabble games…. ok bed time….)

    Like

  27. I love this answer you gave in the fast company interview:

    No. Most corporate workers are bored and dangerously comfortable. They are in that gray area between love and hate that leaves most with constant low-grade anxiety and an acute sense of wasted potential.

    It describes me perfectly. I need to print this and tape it to my cubicle wall to get me to
    do something about it.

    Like

  28. Difference is that everyone has the same amount of time to begin with, and thus the same ability to take leisure time. Everyone does not have the same ability to make money.

    By the way, love the book!

    Like

  29. I love reading your book, but to be honest it’s making me want to go back to my old 80 hour-a-week job. Not that your advice isn’t helpful, it is! I think it’s a great way to empower the 99% of the world that lives to work. There are tons of great ideas in your book!!! The problem is I’ve been living the lifestyle you talk about for almost four years now, and while I’ve had a lot of fun, I don’t have anything to show for it. At 32, I’ve become a jack of all trades and a master of none.

    Not that it hasn’t been great. I’ve spent months traveling through 33 countries, speak four languages, attended culinary school in Europe, went to sleepaway camp as an adult, bought a boat by selling boats, learned how to ski for free by getting certified as a ski instructor, and gotten to waterski, paraglide, jump from planes, ride a Vespa, and have motor vehicles in three countries. I never would have done all that if I had waited to retire and didn’t take risks now. But now I’m bored and want to have a career again, even if that means going back to a cubicle. I think your techniques are great but when you talk about a lifelong plan, there’s something nice about building an expertise through years of dedicated experience. If not, why would CEO’s show up for work everyday when they already have enough money to retire? If you can win a medal or get certified doing something only half-assed, imagine what you could do training in the same area 40 hours a week for the rest of your life? Think about how the Japanese approach their passions. Sushi chefs practice for years to cut the perfect slice. As a result, I’d much rather fly to Tokyo (which I did Friday) to to have their sushi than eat at some overpriced joint in New York (did I mention I worked at one of those too? I wanted to learn how to make sushi).

    There’s also another challenge to life as an NR – I have become TOO interesting at cocktail parties. Nobody wants to tell me about their vacation in the Bahamas because I just got back from three countries. My last relationship was very difficult because I was having more fun than my boyfriend, even though he earns a lot more than I’ve ever earned. Men who hear my stories are intimidated, and sometimes I have to pretend I lead a normal dull life just to keep from scaring them away. My friend who made me read your book tells me I have to date someone like you or die single. Tim, if you’re not free, can you at least start a dating service for NR’s?

    For those of you who haven’t lived yet, go out and get a life. Go fast, take chances. Use Tim’s book to do everything you’ve ever wanted to do. Just don’t flaunt how much fun you’re having to the people you work with now, so they’ll consider letting you return to their world if you ever want to go back.

    Like

  30. Dear Tim,
    I have really enjoyed your book and I have learned a lot! I am in the process of creating a product and I am so grateful that I was able to read your book before I started anything. I have already emailed magazine personnel for questions about advertising.

    I have a question. I am having a very hard time finding a manufacturer for my product. Someone I can trust. Can you help me out. I went to the websites you mentioned in your book but those still didn’t help me. My friend and I have came up with a fasionable product that women cannot live without (we think). But I am looking more for a manufacturer that can help us produce something made of cotton batting, easy sewing product. Can you help me out?? Thank you! And thank you again for your book!!!

    Like

  31. Dear Tim,

    Before I read your book, I had become increasingly depressed about my own life’s work prospects. I mean, who really wants to work a zillion hours a week and spend no time with their family or doing the things they love? Crazy! I’m happy your ideas are getting attention and I hope for more thinkers like you. I’d much rather spend my time traveling, learning to fly an airplane and building relationships.

    Like

  32. I agree with this post because it is true. The higher up we go in our careers it gets harder for us to take time off and enjoy what we worked so hard for. What’s the point in having a lot of money and things, if you can’t enjoy them with your family?

    Like

  33. Yes, it is connected that you have less time when you earn more, but it is important to choose right leisure times activities, or at least to buy suitable equipment for leisure time which helps to save time and to make more enjoyable things! There was the same situation for me, and I bought lots of equipment which made me more happy, you can look what I bought here- Laisvalaikio prekes and I believe it was the best decission!

    Like