Where Do All These Hard Working Adults Come From?

work hard

From Jordan Weissmann at Slate:

“Work-life balance isn’t really America’s strong suit. We spend more hours on the job than most other developed countries. We don’t get much vacation time, and we don’t even use all of the vacation days our bosses do give us. And as economists Daniel Hamermesh and Elena Stancanelli tell us in a new working paper this week, we’re unusually prone to working nights and weekends.”

So two things are apparently true:

  1. American students don’t work hard (most forcefully argued by Whitney Tilson).
  1. American adults work too hard.

It seems odd that we want kids to work harder and adults to work less. I would have expected the opposite.

Then again, most policy commentators are adults.

Some assorted thoughts:

  1. It is unclear to me that American students work less hard than students in other countries (save for students in South Korea). I’ve seen conflicting evidence.
  1. My guess is the three primary drivers of work habits are culture, institutions, and incentives – though there is clearly much interplay between these drivers.
  1. We are a large country: the dominant cultures, institutions, and incentives vary across our population.
  1. But for students, the incentives seem pretty clear: doing well in school leads to earning much more money.
  1. If American students are in fact working less, I’d probably point to culture and institutions (note that many effective charter schools try to reverse these cultural and institutional trends).
  1. For adults, it seems different: I would point to incentives (money) and institutions (mission and profit driven companies with comparatively fewer labor regulations) as the drivers of hard work, with societal culture pushing one way or the other depending on one’s dominant cultural group.

Anyways, I don’t really have many strong opinions here. And I haven’t really worked out the above thoughts into a cohesive argument of any kind. And it’s Saturday.

I was just struck by the odd existence of two pieces of conventional wisdom: we are a nation of lazy children and hardworking adults.

One thought on “Where Do All These Hard Working Adults Come From?

  1. tpaperny

    Perhaps some of this is compensation? I have (some) shame for how well I did in high school and middle school despite how little effort I applied, so perhaps my adult (over)working is a response to that.

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    Reply

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