• In the decades that followed the Second World War many commentators predicted that technology and economic growth would lead to an age of prosperity and leisure. In the last 50 years longevity and standard of living have, indeed, risen dramatically. Yet few of us would subscribe to the idea that we have an abundance of leisure …. Indeed, the dominant view seems to be that we are working harder and are living ever more stressed lives….
SOURCE: Deloitte Monday Briefing: More leisured, more stressed;
The Monday Briefing, written by Ian Stewart, Deloitte’s Chief Economist in the UK, gives a personal view on topical financial and economic issues. Please feel free to forward the Monday Briefing to your colleagues and friends who can, in turn, subscribe to it at: http://www.deloitte.co.uk/mondaybriefing
… but the hard data tell a different story!
The work week has fallen significantly across the industrial countries in the last 40 years. The average worker in 18 nations surveyed by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) put in 12% fewer hours per year in 2006 than in 1970, a reduction of more than five hours per working week.
• Over this period Norway and France saw the largest reduction in the working hours, down 23% and 22% respectively. UK workers spend 14% less time working than in 1970. Even in the US hours worked have fallen by 5%. Nor is this a Western phenomenon. Korean and Japanese workers are putting in 20% fewer hours a year than in 1970.
• Countries in northern Europe, including Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, France and Germany work the shortest hours in the OECD. Workers in less wealthy countries, including Greece, Italy, Hungary, Poland, Turkey and Mexico, put in far longer hours. Hours worked are well above average in the US. But, in a refutation of the simplistic notion of hard working Americans and lazy Europeans US hours worked are far lower than in Greece and similar to Italy.
• So much for work. But what of the rest of the day?
• Across the OECD people sleep an average of 8 hours and 22 minutes every day. The French are the top sleepers, putting in 8 hours and 50 minutes per night, 25 minutes more than the average Brit and an hour more than the average Korean who sleeps the least in the OECD.
• The French also spend more than 2 hours a day eating and drinking, more than any other OECD nation and nearly double the time Mexicans, Canadians and Americans spend eating. Two other nations with famously good cuisine, Italy and Japan, also devote a significant part of the day to eating and drinking.
• Labour saving devices, technology and prosperity have reduced the amount of time people spend on chores around the house in the last 40 years and, together with a shorter work week, freed up time for leisure.
• Belgium, Germany and Norway top the international league table of leisure time. People in these countries typically spend about 27% of their time on leisure activities. Given the perception that Americans are increasingly pressured and stressed, it is striking that US workers have as much leisure time as the average worker across the 18 countries surveyed by the OECD – and far more than Mexicans, Japanese and, perhaps surprisingly, Australians.
• Watching TV or listening to the radio is the most popular leisure activity, using up 36% of leisure time in the OECD.
• Over the last half century women have played a rapidly increasing role in the workforce. Innovations such as online shopping and central heating, coupled with a greater contribution at home from men, have enabled women to reduce the amount of unpaid work they do. Yet women continue to do more work around the home. Across the OECD women put in, on average, 2.6 hours more per week than men on paid and unpaid work.
• So across the rich world people are working less and have more leisure time. So why do so many of us feel hassled and stressed? Paradoxically, prosperity may be the problem.
• US economists Mark Aguiar and Erik Hurst argue that we are squeezing ever more activities, both work and leisure, into our day. Technology, prosperity and organizational change have made us busier and more hassled.
• Just consider the number of individual emails you write and respond to every day; the number of texts you send and receive; the number of occasions you glance at the news or sports results on-line. The ubiquity of mobile communications means that people are rarely disconnected.
• Prosperity has another, more subtle and insidious effect on how we feel. As we earn more money the ‘opportunity cost’ of leisure – the amount of money we forgo by not working – increases. In effect, the price of a walk in the park or reading a book rises as our pay goes up. In this way prosperity may make it harder for us to appreciate our leisure time.
• We may think we were working our socks off but the hard data show that we work less and have more leisure time than our parents. Technology and rising prosperity seem likely to give us yet more time away from work. The challenge will be to find activities to fill this time that are as stimulating and purposeful as the work we forgo. After all, the real question is not the allocation of time, but what makes us happy.
MARKETS & NEWS
The FTSE 100 ended the week down 0.5% and fell to a three-month low as the prospect of fresh US military action in Iraq hit global investor sentiment.
Here are some recent news stories that caught our eye as reflecting key economic themes:
• Russia banned imports of all meat, seafood, dairy, vegetables, fruit and processed foods from the US, the EU, Australia, Canada and Norway for a year, in retaliation against western sanctions on Russia
• Russia’s benchmark borrowing costs rose to a five-year high with investors worried over the deepening tensions over Ukraine
• Germany’s benchmark borrowing costs fell to a new record low, as geopolitical risks in Ukraine and Iraq sparked a run to safer assets
• The chairman of HSBC warned of the “growing danger of disproportionate risk aversion” among the bank’s employees who fear being censured by regulators
• Rating agency Moody’s downgraded its outlook for the UK banking sector, warning that Britain’s big banks are exposed to multimillion pound fines and lawsuits that could dent their profits
• Italy’s economy fell in to a ‘triple-dip’ recession, with GDP contracting by 0.2% in the second quarter
• Flash floods in Italy’s Prosecco-producing region have been blamed on the clearing of woodland to make way for new vineyards, as sales of Prosecco boom both in Italy and abroad
• British Chancellor George Osborne instructed Treasury officials to work on a study looking at the benefits and threats of currently unregulated digital currencies
• Bloomberg reports that US bacon sales are up 40% since 2009-10 despite retail-bacon prices having risen 10% in 2014 because of a pork virus that has restricted supply
• The pace of growth in the US services sector hit its highest in eight-and-a-half years in July, boosted by growth in business activity, new orders and employment
• The US Treasury said its borrowing needs this quarter fell to the lowest level for the period since 2007, with the stronger economy boosting tax revenue
• Rating agency Standard & Poor’s argued that the economic disparities between the richest and poorest Americans “need to be watched because they’re damaging to growth” and make the economy more prone to boom-and-bust cycles
• A professor of automated reasoning at the University of Leeds told the Financial Times that robotic security guards – fitted with video cameras and other sensors – could be deployed by security firms “within the decade”
• Wanda, China’s largest commercial developer, acquired a plot of land in Hollywood for $1.2bn, which it said it expects “to aid in China’s entry into Hollywood’s film industry and generally promote Chinese culture abroad”
• The Reserve Bank of Australia cut its forecast for economic growth in the year to June 2015 to a range of 2-3%, with growth prospects hit by a drop in mining activity and investment
• An American reality-TV star reported to police the theft from his briefcase of “the best egg salad recipe in the world”, which although “priceless” he valued at $4,000 for insurance purposes – eggsaggerated claim?