No Time for Fun: The Future of Leisure

This was no time for play.
This was no time for fun.
This was no time for games.
There was work to be done.
The Cat in the Hat Comes Back (1958)

not-so-declining leisure timeGreat Hal Varian column in this morning’s Times on the future of leisure. A new study shows that leisure time remains flat, despite economists and futurists for decades claiming our eventual problem would be not knowing what to do with all our leisure.

Here is Hal on the subject, with a mention of how housework’s expansion shows how leisure is such a slippery notion:

Advances in technology have made housework much less onerous and time-consuming than it once was: a century ago it took four hours to do a load of laundry and 4.5 hours to iron it. Today it takes 41 minutes to wash a load of laundry, and modern fabrics need much less ironing.

But since the time necessary to do a given amount of housework has gone down, people have chosen to do more of it. One hundred years ago, it was a luxury to have clean clothes, a tidy house and a cooked meal. Today these things are viewed as necessities of life.


  1. QUOTE: If we were willing to settle for the standards of nutrition, health and cleanliness that prevailed in 1900, much less labor would be required. But, as Betty Friedan has said in “The Feminine Mystique,” “housewifery expands to fill the time available.”UNQUOTE
    Any economic analysis of housework standards having risen to provide better nutrition, health and cleanliness would be incomplete without building in the economic value of lower morbidity and mortality made possible by better nutrition, health and cleanliness.
    Further the nature of work now is such that ‘work’ and ‘life’ are no longer two separate spaces or activities to be balanced. In such a context, which is markedly different from the 1900s, how does one define leisure? What about blogging – is it work or leisure for you, Paul?
    As for housework expanding to fill time available, it has much to do with an unfair balance of activity in homes, even as ‘housewives’ of yore, about whose angst Betty Friedan was writing, have gone to paid employment outside home but continue to toil in unpaid work at home – the economic value of which is not even included in the national GDPs!

  2. “Today it takes 41 minutes to wash a load of laundry”
    If you stand there and watch it, I guess.
    “One hundred years ago, it was a luxury to … have a cooked meal.” Really? Come on, my grandparents lived a humdred years ago (on the lower end of the economic scale, even), yet I never heard any stories from them about having to eat raw meat, potatoes, grains, vegatables, etc.