Surveying Strangers About the Ideal Work-Life Balance

Surveying Strangers About the Ideal Work-Life Balance

One Job Please

Every day millions of people across the world go to something called a job. The premise is simple. Give a company your time, labor, and brainpower and they’ll give you something called money. You can then use that money to buy things to survive: food, shelter, spinning classes, etc.

I recently read an article that the average workweek is 47 hours. I was reminded of a junior year English class where my teacher asked the class to choose between five jobs:

  1. Work 40 hours a week making $40,000 a year

  2. Work 50 hours a week making $50,000 a year

  3. Work 60 hours a week making $60,000 a year

  4. Work 70 hours a week making $70,000 a year

  5. Work 80 hours a week making $80,000 a year

Although my class was small – only 12 people – I was the only person who wanted to work 80 hours a week making $80,000 a year. At the time, I was confused - didn’t my classmates understand, if they made more money, they could buy more things?

Since then, I’ve realized that making more money often comes at the cost of having less time to spend said money. Still, being relatively young and given the choice now, a part of me is still tempted to choose option 5 because, let’s be honest, what else would I use my free time for?

But I wondered if anyone else felt that way.
 

It’s Survey Time

So I sent out a survey.

I recruited 411 people online, 260 women and 151 men.

I asked the participants to imagine that they were starting a new job in the city or town where they currently reside. They have the choice between 5 close to identical jobs that they like but don’t love. I presented them the five hour & salary options from my English teacher and told them that the job they chose would be the job they would have for the foreseeable future at the same salary.

I first asked participants to choose a job assuming they were single. To mix things up, I then asked them to choose a job assuming they were married to a someone who works 50 hours a week making $60k a year but without kids (now or in the foreseeable future).
 

So what do people think?

Here are the results:

 

Regardless of marital status, most people would prefer to work fewer hours making less money.

In both the single and married situation, more than three-quarters of people said they would prefer to work 40 or 50 hours a week making $40k or $50k a year.  Clearly my high-school desire to spend all my waking hours at work is not a sentiment shared by most people.

 People are much more willing to work longer if they are younger.

I bucketed people into 3 age groups – 20 to 39 years old, 40 to 59 years old, and 60 to 79 years old. People who were in the youngest age bracket were consistently willing to work longer than the other two age groups. In the single scenario, 31.1% of 20-39 year olds chose to work 60+ hours/week while for 40-59 year olds and 60-79 year olds that percent was 19.5% and 11.5% respectively.

When people became married, the percent of 20-39 year olds who chose 60+ hour/week jobs went down to 25.2%. However, this was still higher than the other two age groups.

 

Men choose to work longer hours. While female job preferences stay the same after marriage, male preferences converge toward the middle.

 More men preferred to work 60+ hour weeks than women. This was true regardless if they were single (32.4% of men vs. 21.3% of women) or married (29.2% of men vs. 18.2% of women).

After marriage, women had minor changes to their responses while men who originally chose the 40 and 80 hour workweeks converged towards 50 and 60 hour workweeks. Clearly some guys wanted to hide from their spouses through work (this is a joke). Realistically, some men may have wanted to work more because they didn't want to make less than their spouse others may have just wanted to financially support their spouse more.
 

I Dream About Work-Life Balance

Most people don't want to work as much as my high-school self. I don't think I understood what working 80 hours felt like. After having worked a few years, I dream about decreasing how much I work, even if that comes with a pay cut. That's what I've decided to research work-life balance: what it means, whether it actually exists, and how to achieve it.
 

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