Rich Work More than the ‘Working Class’

NYT sociologist Dalton Conley, in a NYT Labor Day op-ed entitled “Poor Man’s Burden,” notes that rich people work longer hours than their less-well-off cohorts.

[W]hat’s different from [Max] Weber’s era is that it is now the rich who are the most stressed out and the most likely to be working the most. Perhaps for the first time since we’ve kept track of such things, higher-income folks work more hours than lower-wage earners do. Since 1980, the number of men in the bottom fifth of the income ladder who work long hours (over 49 hours per week) has dropped by half, according to a study by the economists Peter Kuhn and Fernando Lozano. But among the top fifth of earners, long weeks have increased by 80 percent.

This is a stunning moment in economic history: At one time we worked hard so that someday we (or our children) wouldn’t have to. Today, the more we earn, the more we work, since the opportunity cost of not working is all the greater (and since the higher we go, the more relatively deprived we feel).

In other words, when we get a raise, instead of using that hard-won money to buy “the good life,” we feel even more pressure to work since the shadow costs of not working are all the greater.

One result is that even with the same work hours and household duties, women with higher incomes report feeling more stressed than women with lower incomes, according to a recent study by the economists Daniel Hamermesh and Jungmin Lee. In other words, not only does more money not solve our problems at home, it may even make things worse.

Well . . . no.  It’s not the money that causes the problems, it’s the earning process.

Most people who have hourly jobs leave their work-related worries behind the moment they leave the job site.  Sure, they might be worried about losing their job but they aren’t thinking about jackhammering or delivering packages or flipping burgers or stocking shelves or whathaveyou once they get home.   In most cases, there’s a clean division between work and homelife.

That’s not true for most salaried workers, let alone executives.  Sure, many of us have the luxury of taking a few minutes here and there during the “work day” to surf the Internet or, indeed, even write blog posts.  But our day doesn’t end when we step out of the office.

It’s not just that we’re chained to the job with our email and ubiquitous BlackBerries.  Were it not for those conveniences, most of us would be forced to spend more time in the office rather than having the flexibility to work from home on occasion.   Even when we’re not consciously working, we’re fretting over the next day’s presentations, looking ahead to various problems, and otherwise engaged in work.

Beyond that, most of these people build their lives around their work, drawing both much of their self-worth and quite a bit of satisfaction from it. This is the difference between a job and a career.

A quarter century or so ago, Al Franken had a bit on “Saturday Night Live” wherein he observed that, as a comedian, anything that he used in his act was techically a “business expense.”  He proceeded to hold up various luxury purchases, mentioning them on the show, so that he could get a tax write-off.   Presumably, he didn’t actually put in for the deductions.  But his humor was on target:  What, exactly, does constitute “work” for people who make a living making observations about living?

To be sure, there are those who are rich even though they don’t do much.  Some people win the lottery.  Others inherit lots of money because someone related to them worked really hard and left it to them.  But the vast majority of those who inhabit the upper reaches of the income distribution are there because they’ve worked really hard for a long time.

Somehow, though, they’re not part of the “working class.”

Via Jason Kottke via Andrew Sullivan

FILED UNDER: General
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Steve Plunk says:

    Do sociologists not think things through? Higher income jobs come with much greater responsibilities and therefore more stress. Like JJ says it’s not the money that causes the problems. That is true for both women and men.

  2. just me says:

    I don’t think this is all that shocking. Most professional people I know who work for relatively higher salaries put in far more than 40 hours per week and often put in more than 50.

    I have a few relatives that are doctors, and I decided a long time ago that I would not like being married to a doctor, because they appear to be constantly working. Even when they are home, they get called in to work, or calls for phone consultations and other stuff.

    But a lot of the lower income salaries often come with jobs that greatly restrict over time. I work in an hourly job (by choice in the school district because I want the same schedule as my children). I can’t work more than 32 1/2 hours per week period. If I work more than that my boss gets yelled at.

    My husband worked for a grocery company through college-they were very strict about over time as well-if employees were working more than 40 hours, the manager needed to have a good reason why.

    I think a lot of hourly, lower paying jobs control costs by not only hiring a lot of part timers, but also being very strict about overtime hours. So, essentially company policies in an effort to control overtime reduce some productivity.

  3. gawaine says:

    One other change, for those of us in the technology business, is the global nature of things. At my last job, I had developers in India, which meant conference calls at 11pm and 7:30am eastern every weekday. It could have been worse, though – one of my coworkers had clients in France in addition to offshore developers. She didn’t get a moment’s rest.

  4. gawaine says:

    One other thought. People flipping burgers aren’t likely to do it more than 8 hours a day – because they’d have to be paid overtime if they did, so it’s cheaper to hire another person. Unskilled labor isn’t worth paying for more than 40 hour weeks, on average, unless you’re paying for benefits which give a fixed cost per employee. As benefits get expensive enough that employers drop them (often by hiring even more workers for less hours, to fall below some magical limit where benefits would otherwise be provided), they lose much of the incentive for making people work more hours.

  5. sam says:

    I think a lot of hourly, lower paying jobs control costs by not only hiring a lot of part timers, but also being very strict about overtime hours.

    I agree on the part-time. And when I worked part-time for a retail electronics chain, they were very strict about restricting the number of hours you worked. If you worked beyond a certain number of hours per week, they had to pay benefits. They didn’t like that.

    Most people who have hourly jobs leave their work-related worries behind the moment they leave the job site. Sure, they might be worried about losing their job but they aren’t thinking about jackhammering or delivering packages or flipping burgers or stocking shelves or whathaveyou once they get home.

    Or once they get to their second job. Does anyone have any stats on how many Americans in the lower-income strata work two (or more jobs)? I would be surprised if it’s not a large number.

  6. Steve Verdon says:

    You guys are confusing the absolute and marginal.

    It’s not just that we’re chained to the job with our email and ubiquitous BlackBerries. Were it not for those conveniences, most of us would be forced to spend more time in the office rather than having the flexibility to work from home on occasion. Even when we’re not consciously working, we’re fretting over the next day’s presentations, looking ahead to various problems, and otherwise engaged in work.

    This is not the same as,

    In other words, when we get a raise, instead of using that hard-won money to buy “the good life,” we feel even more pressure to work since the shadow costs of not working are all the greater.

    The first one says, “Executives work lots of hours.” The second says, “As the pay goes up for individuals they work more because leisure time becomes relatively more expensive.”

    In economics of labor/leisure trade offs there is this idea that at some level of income/hourly pay that the labor supply curve becomes backward bending. Basically there are two effects to an increase in the wage:

    The Substitution Effect: This will tend to increase the number of hours worked as people substitute earnings for leisure.

    Income Effect: This will decrease the number of hours worked as people using the additional income to purchase more leisure.

    What this is saying is that for those in the top income brackets the substitution effect dominates. At the margin, the rich prefer to trade leisure for additional income hence consumption.

  7. chsw says:

    There is a policy implication in this. Higher taxes are a disincentive to work. As these individuals are among the most productive in society, disincentivizing them will reduce their output, and the productivity loss may be greater than any static analysis would indicate. Moreover, transferring more to those at the bottom of the income scale not only disincentivizes work, but combined with the higher tax rates for the hardworking, demonstrates that jobs, savings, and all of the processes of middle-class to upper-class achievement is – for suckers.

    chsw – I guess that I’m going to be suckered after this election.

  8. James Joyner says:

    Steve:

    That’s true at a theoretical level but most upper income folks aren’t being paid on an hourly basis. For most, there’s no sense that, “If I put in another couple hours a day, I’ll net another $20k this year.” Mostly, they’re either thinking “I need to put in ten hours a day or I won’t be competitive for that big promotion” or, even more simply, “The job’s not going to do itself.”

    So, yes, in the abstract they’re trading leisure for income. But they’re not doing it in the same way that, say, an electrician’s apprentice who decides to do some jobs under the table on the weekend is.

  9. Ambitious, driven people always have and always will work more than 40 hours a week, and certainly more than those that work to make ends meet, since those ends are met with ever greater ease as time marches on. For the coffee acheivers, how much they work has has little to do with what they make. I don’t know what percentage of the “rich” this constitutes, but it runs completely orthagonal to this analysis.

    Oh, and once again, “rich” is once again used to define income instead of assets. I guess I’ll get tired of beating that dead horse when it no longer has to be beaten.

  10. John Burgess says:

    I discovered rather quickly that working at State Dept., you could really be abused depending on your place of assignment.

    In Saudi Arabia, for instance, not only did you have an eight-hour time difference–your office is notionally closing just as Washington is notionally opening–but the difference in local weekends–Sat-Sun. in DC; Thurs-Fri. in the KSA–meant you were basically on-call 24/7. No amount of extra work was going to get you overtime. At most, you might hope to outwork competitors around the world in the same grade and thus earn a promotion.

    Then there’s that annoying clash of cultural hours. Saudis tend to work and play at night. No one, other than perhaps doctors, would be at his office until late morning or early afternoon. That meant that an embassy employee was going to be working late if he had to deal face-to-face with Saudis. In fact, I had more dinners at midnight or later than I had at 7:00pm. But the embassy, as an instrumentality of the USG, had office hours of 8:30-5:00, less the wrath of Congress descend.

    Other countries in the region had similar problems if not quite so bad. Much of the Levant and Egypt have a Fri-Sat weekend, something which most of the Arab Gulf States have now adopted.

    Salaries that might have seemed high could also look rather paltry (under minimum wage, actually) if you calculated them on a 24/7 basis.

    Most irksome, though, was the fact that headquarters, manned by other Foreign Service Officers, couldn’t keep the time and weekend differences straight. They’d been on the receiving end themselves, but went amnesiac when they were on the giving end.

  11. carpeicthus says:

    I’m a freelancer. My work-week is 24/7, and my boss knows that I’m goofing off right now.

  12. Steve Verdon says:

    Calculating one’s imputed hourly wage is not all that hard, and for people at the upper end of the income distribution I’m pretty sure all of them can do it.

    For most, there’s no sense that, “If I put in another couple hours a day, I’ll net another $20k this year.”

    Actually it might. I was talking to a guy who was working on a deal that sounds very much like that and that was his reasoning. “I work a few hours more a week and look at that payoff. Done and Done.” Granted it isn’t as cut and dry as a guy on an hourly wage with time-and-half for over time, and double time for holiday pay, etc., but it seems that logic is similar if a bit more fuzzy around the edges.

    Other than the fact that those at the upper end my have an upward sloping labor supply curve everywhere in regards to the “imputed” wage rate, I don’t see all that much to get excited about. It is like getting excited about a Giffen good*…unless your an economist its not all that interesting.

    *Clear sign I’m an econ-geek…a geekonomist I guess.

  13. moqui says:

    We work longer and harder, true, but we also take better and more frequent vacations.

    Six years ago, I was making less than $40K per year and could only afford to take a week a year to go fishing. Now, my business is thriving and already this year I’ve spent a week in Sedona and two weeks in Maui. I’m taking 5 days next week to Whidbey Island, and all of Thanksgiving week in Baja.

    On the flip side, I will be working the mornings of Xmas and New Year’s day, but it’s a worthwhile tradeoff, IMHO.

  14. nlcatter says:

    ive done both
    and rather have this white collar job

    most of the time.

  15. David Pinto says:

    When my main job was computer programmer, I was always working. I wrote code in my head in the shower. I’d take my daily walk and think about solving a problem. There was little down time for me. It’s also the reason I was pissed off I had to fill out a time card when I was salaried.

  16. Chris says:

    Tangent:
    I recall Drew Carey on an interesting Reason TV segment. He featured an economist who declared that the middle class are increasingly compensated with time rather than money. Not only do they have more liesure time, but less time is required to afford necessities and luxuries of life.

    href=”http://online.wsj.com/public/page/8_0006.html?bcpid=86195573&bclid=212338097&bctid=1400565213″>

  17. […] means that the industrous people will be rich and the dumb asses will be poor. Plain and simple. Rich Work More than the ‘Working Class’ […]

  18. John says:

    I’m one of those sick people who enjoy my work. I think that “the rich” tend to work more because they self select fields that interest them and fields that also pay for performance. Most people I know don’t work for the extras, they work because they like it, find it enjoyable and dare I say a “leisure activity”.

  19. John says:

    In the comments I see lots of anecdote and not much data. People tend to convert narrative–their own personal experience–into “data.” The problem is that narrative does not often account for real experience.

    “Work” for lower income families is often made up of their first job, plus a second job, plus family care, plus home chores and more . A Yuppie making $200K or $300K or $400K has one job that may amount to 50 or 60 hours a week or so, but farms out the rest.

    I certainly do that.

    I am a professional who, by choice, lives in a rural area. Based on what I know about the families around me, I wonder if the data referenced in this report takes account of second and third jobs and the other work that many middle and lower tier families must undertake to make ends meet.

    In sum, I know lots of lawyers and doctors. I don’t know many of those who work harder than the working class families around me.

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