Bad cause-and-effect

I just caught a TV news snippet comparing leisure time now to sometime in the 1950s or 60s.

Apparently, we spend 42 hours a week on leisure activities now compared with 36 hours back then. They said something like: We spend more time doing whatever we want now. What has caused this? The rise in the number of part-time jobs.

My guess is that is a result, not a cause.

I’d also guess that we have more leisure time now because we can afford more. We trade work for leisure because things have gotten better and we can afford to — or we can work less to have the lifestyle we prefer.

The rise in part-time jobs may have resulted from being able to afford to choose to work less.

What if we discovered that the average family takes more vacations than they did in the 1950s? What caused this? The rise in the places to go on vacation.

Update: Thanks to ColoComment for the link to the BLS leisure time study press release.

6 thoughts on “Bad cause-and-effect

  1. I am all about bigger leisure activities. The days seem long througout the week so on the weekends splurging comes!

    Great post and blog! Nice to meet you in bloglandia.

  2. Hi Seth – I would like to know the source of the info. Does leisure time include twenty-somethings living with their parents and playing video games because government entitlement programs make it easy for them to avoid – God forbid – actually getting a job?

    If the extra leisure time is a product of our increased productivity, that’s great. If it’s the result of the government taxing the maker class in order to enable the taker class to play instead of work, that spells trouble down the road.

    • I caught it as I was walking through the room. It was one of those non-essential news items they use to fill about 15 seconds at the end of the newscast.

      Here’s one reference to it — looks like it was a BLS study:

      It looks like this story added a more plausible explanation — modern technology improving house work and cooking productivity.

      To your other points, even it it does include those twenty-somethings because of entitlement programs and government taxing the maker class to redistribute, that is still a result of there being enough wealth in society (through productivity) to afford to do such things. Though, I agree that the incentive distortions don’t help.

      • Seth, I agree that if we look at this very instant in time, there is enough productivity, and hence wealth, to “afford” some redistribution to allow for such unearned leisure. That said, I think we would both agree that the long term effects of such incentives – leisure at the expense of others – is likely to be less productivity and thus less total leisure time for society. Indeed, I propose that the unseen loss is even greater as not only will people have less incentive to work (in the physical sense), but the potential future increases in productivity made possible by advances in technology will be blunted as there is less incentive to make such advances when your reward is squandered away. If we view productivity as a product of human effort multiplied by our tools (technology) and we reduce the incentives for both, it is a cause for concern.

        • I do agree. The incentive distortions caused by redistribution are a double-whammy. Not only do they consume productively created wealth, but they also prevent new wealth from being created.

          The worse part, for me, is that many people consider the double-whammy to be productive.

          But, I think one way to counter this view is to point out that the double-whammy exists because it can be afforded. The riches so many people naively view with distaste is the very reason their favorite redistribution scheme can be afforded.


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