Americans Trim Income to Gain Free Time

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

MOST have heard a story like this one: John and Susie Stockmarket quit their prestigious, high-paying jobs and cart their kids to Colorado. He becomes a carpenter, she a part-time caterer. Instead of a 70-hour work week, they make their own hours and spend more time with the kids in the great outdoors.

Although this fable may not apply to many people, it appeals to many. Americans are placing more emphasis on leisure time than ever before.

In the past, people have been willing to reduce future income for more free time; now, for the first time they are willing to have less present income for more free time, says Juliet B. Schor, an associate professor of economics at Harvard University and author of "The Overworked American."

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This may be a backlash to the '80s, when people overworked and overspent. Look around: The BMW has become the Bronco. Advertising spots feature dads with their children. Baby-boomer professionals especially seem to be weighing the priorities of "the good life." Time may mean more than money.

The reason for the attitude shift is the dramatic rise of working hours that has occurred in the past 20 years, says Ms. Schor, who estimates that during the '70s and through 1989 the average American employee was working almost an additional month - 150 hours - a year.

Those wanting more leisure time are not all making $80,000 a year, either, Schor said in a phone interview. "It's quite striking; we're seeing this across the income spectrum." Polls also indicate that as many as eight out of 10 people would prefer to be on a slower career track that gave them more time for their families, says Schor. Refusing promotions and transfers to other geographic locations are part of the mix, she adds.

A 1991 Hilton Time Values Survey of 1,010 individuals found that people estimated they had only 19 hours of free time per week, but wanted more like 26. More than half said that they would be willing to give up one or even two days' pay each week to have those days off.

A trend toward wanting more leisure pleases people like Lawrence Burke, editor of Outside Magazine. "People are rediscovering the need to get their lives in better balance," he says. "How much do we want to dedicate to the need to earn a living versus actually living?"

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