Title: Stressed Out on Four Continents: Time Crunch or Yuppie Kvetch?

Author(s): Daniel S. Hamermesh and Jungmin Lee

Publisher: The Review of Economics and Statistics

Year: 2007

URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/40043067

Topics: time stress, high-income households

Methods: analysis of data from four different datasets: Australia’s “Household, Income, and Labour Dynamics in Australia” survey, Germany’s Socioeconomic Panel, the Korean Time Use Study, and the US Panel Study of Income Dynamics. All analyses were restricted to responses from male-female couples in which at least one partner was working full time.

What it says:

The authors examine the four datasets listed above to determine whether an economic theory of time stress – i.e. that time stress, or the “strain or tension that is generated by the feeling that the available time is insufficient to accomplish the desired activity,” increases as household income increases – is supported. They found that:

  1. With the exception of Korea, where fewer women are in the workforce, women expressed more time stress than men,
  2. Both women and men in the United States reported significantly more time stress than respondents from Germany and Australia, though Koreans reported the most of all,
  3. Across the four data sets, holding the number of market work hours constant, “as earnings decrease, sample members in all four countries express less time stress,”
  4. While additional income significantly impacts time stress, market work hours are relatively more important
  5. Time stress was felt across households – i.e. one partner’s income impacts the other’s time stress,
  6. This relationship between income and time stress held true even when controlling for a host of variables, including health (poor health, incidentally, is a great predictor of time stress)
  7. Some of the time stress is “yuppie kvetch”: “People do perceive themselves to be in a time crunch, but they are kvetching partly because they have too much money given the time that they have chosen to leave over from market work to combine with their incomes,” and
  8. While it is not possible to determine how much of the time crunch is real and how much is high-income complaint, “we can be certain that at least some of the complaints result from differences across households in their members’ full earnings.”

What I think about it:

While this study relies on four datasets that include different kinds of information (which in some cases, e.g. earnings information from Korea, had to be imputed) the methodology seems solid. The authors don’t provide much information on how they dealt with the discrepancies between the datasets, beyond noting that “each variable was chosen to match as closely as possible the available measures of work hours.” As a result, it’s unclear how confident we can be in generalizing findings across countries, especially, as they authors themselves note, what constitutes “time stress” is not necessarily the same in all regions. It’s also unclear how reliable the authors’ controls are — how did they manage to control for health across the four different datasets, for example? Did all four surveys include the same question about the respondents? However, the multifaceted nature of the analysis — using multiple countries, multiple controls, and anticipating multiple objections — strengthens the study.

What it all means:

At the very least, this study suggests that money, and the options it allows, breed their own kind of stress. The author’s overall takeaway on the relationship between time, money, and grumpiness is unclear: “Kvetching does not mean that people could enhance their utility by giving up income: we assume they are maximizing utility but are simply unhappy about the limits on their available time.” Fair enough, but what we are to do with this information is up in the air.

I’d be curious to find out how much of the “yuppie kvetch” corresponds with actual demands on time, versus a sense of overwhelmed-ment stemming from not being able to do everything that one could. Theoretically, a high- and low-income individual may both be participating in the arts at equal rates, but the high-income individual feels a greater sense of time stress because s/he gets invited to far more fundraising galas for the arts organizations s/he supports.