The Economics Department

Time Crunch or Yuppie Kvetch?

Mon, June 6, 2005

This is because there are really only a couple of hours in the average weekday in which a person has some flexible time. With more money comes more options, which leads to greater stress in trying get everything done. It's logic only an economist would use, Hamermesh admitted.

"This just bothered the sociologists like crazy because they all said, 'Look, if you have more income you can have people do things for you,"' Hamermesh said. "But if you think about most of the things you do, you can't have people do them for you." For instance, Hamermesh noted that you can't pay a person to sleep for you -- or go to plays, read, exercise, eat or any of the countless other things that occupy the day. Those things take time, and time is a scarce commodity.

Conversely, Hamermesh found that people who have less money don't complain about not having enough time. Not surprisingly, they're more concerned about their income. This has led Hamermesh to conclude that those concerned about a time crunch are focusing on the wrong issue.

"This notion of time crunch is not one that should occupy public attention," Hamermesh said. "It's basically yuppie kvetch - complaining by the wellto- do. Poverty is a problem. Time scarcity is not a problem."

With a touch of irony, Hamermesh noted that his study was funded in part by foundations interested in finding solutions to time crunch. But the solution that Hamermesh's study suggests - that timepressed people give away their excess money - isn't likely to be a big hit in the affluent suburbs.

"They're clearly better off with more money and with the stress for time than they would be with less money and less time stress," Hamermesh said. "They made this choice. Nobody is forcing them to do more." Hamermesh admits that both he and his wife feel the effects of time crunch - but he wouldn't have it any other way. "I have lots and lots of money and not much time, so I'm running around like a maniac and feel quite rushed," he said. "On the other hand, I have the ability to purchase almost anything I want within any kind of reason. I don't deserve sympathy. Quite the contrary."

Another finding in Hamermesh's study is that women - particularly wealthy housewives - complain the most about time stress. Hamermesh speculated that the cause of this is the fact that women tend to be household managers, and hence have more tasks to juggle in a day than men, who are more singularly focused on work. And if you add children into the equation, the potential for time stress is that much greater. In his study, Hamermesh cites his daughter-in-law, who lamented, "With kids and the house, I often feel I have four hours of tasks and only two hours to do them in."

By: Anthony Zurcher
Office of Public Affairs/College of Liberal Arts

Photo: Marsha Miller

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