Men work more than women; rich work more than poor

We are always looking for complicated reasons why some people are more successful than others. But when we look closer, sometimes the simple explanations are better. One important reason why some people and some groups are more successful is simply that they work more.

We have lots of myths in our society. Some are not really so much myths as outdated realities. There was a time in our history when the poor did most of the work while the rich played. This was always less true in America, with a strong work ethic among its most successful folks, but it was true nevertheless.

Not anymore. A generation ago, the most poorly paid 20% of workers were more likely to put in long work hours. More recently, the best-paid 20% were twice as likely to work long hours as the bottom 20%.

It is even more pronounced among educated men. For them the proportion working 50 hours or more climbed from 22.2% to 30.5% in two decades and from 1979-2002, long work hours increased by 14.4% among the top quintile, but fell 6.7% in the bottom 20%.

The linked article postulates some explanations based on incentives. I think we might be also facing a cultural shift. Successful Americans are usually those that have held tighter to traditional American values of hard work and responsibility. They work more not only to make more money, but because they think it is the right thing to do. But working harder has the effect of making you richer.

The liberal establishment does not like my type of explanation. For them, differences are likely the result of unfairness or discrimination. The fact that they cannot often find direct evidence of these things w/o all sorts of twists & caveats has not discouraged their belief in them. They liked it better in the 1960s when there was really a good fight to fight. Today theirs is a faith based ideology.

Maybe we need to recognize that many, perhaps most of the differences in our society today result from choices people make. If you want to change the results, change the choices.

Posted by Christine & John at September 30, 2013 3:36 PM
Comment #371797

Maybe we need to recognize that many, perhaps most of the differences in our society today result from choices people make. If you want to change the results, change the choices.
Posted by Christine & John at September 30, 2013 3:36 PM

Hell C/J, anyone with any smarts should agree with your conclusions about work and success.

I happened to be an easy learner and I recall back in grade school the times when some of my buddies would come to my house to “study”. Study was the furthest from their minds and we would mostly tell jokes and talk about girls. My mom finally wouldn’t allow any of my buddies to “study” with me as she wasn’t fooled at all. And, I understood that I couldn’t do their studying for them.

Being a quick learner didn’t mean that I didn’t have to study hard to get some course concepts and A grades. My study habits combined with good brain cells allowed me to get the highest grades through college. Good study (work) habits was the key, as without that, even the best brain will fail to accomplish much.

Posted by: Royal Flush at September 30, 2013 3:39 PM
Comment #371798

My work experience is mostly in the manufacturing setting as a worker. I have experience in working for myself by my philosophy is a dollar earned is a dollar mine. So to stay out of jail I work for someone else.

I am a firm believer in making money using efficiency and frugal use of resources. I utilize these to excel in the workplace and I have found that that excellence works against me with my co-workers. One is quoted to say, “Don’t work so hard, you’re making us look bad!” I reply, “I’m not making you look bad, I’m making me look good!” Needless to say, while looking good to my employer is fine and dandy, that view held by my co-workers is lethal in the long run. A hired supervisor will take the path of least resistance to insure tranquility in the workplace. Politics will win over profit when the money made or saved does not belong to the decision maker.

I enjoy working for myself because I have control over the decision making process. I am the man, so the speak. If I make a mistake it’s my mistake and I am free to correct it.

That freedom is absent in an employee position. You are to do as you are told and if the directions are flawed or inefficient, that’s tough. You’re being paid to do it that way and don’t you dare make the boss look bad by pointing out those flaws or inefficiencies.

The workplace is a dictatorship. There is no free speech. There is no freedom of movement. You have no right to liberty or happiness. (Thank goodness life is protected.) Just as in society, politics rules in the workplace. The money you are allowed to make keeps you in a position of servitude. To change it is to change your entire life, mostly for the worse. Can you imagine the government being the only employer, controlling not only your job but the rest of your life as well? You will eat this. You will work here. You will take this medicine. You will ride this bike only to work and back. Don’t say it couldn’t happen.

I look forward to the repeal of the 16th amendment so I can work for myself and keep my dollar earned without the fear of persecution. A free country is not maintained using force. True freedom is the right to own property and property includes the money you earn.

Posted by: Weary Willie at September 30, 2013 4:54 PM
Comment #371800

Or maybe the decline in long hours for lower class workers depends more on the fact that the grunts in the workplace are actively discouraged by managers and executives who don’t want to pay their workers time and a half.

Meanwhile, salaried workers, who are compensated differently, are often lead to cram more work into their week for the sake of productivity. Question is, are we getting more quality work, or simply more quantity, and are these socially sustainable, if we value people’s family life’s, and the character of the next generation.

You make a rather simple, and rather insidious assumption: that economic class and income depend most strongly on character, in essence good character. But that’s not necessarily the case. In fact, many successful people have awful family lives.

Things may have dimensions you fail to consider because you consider economic forces inherently moral.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at September 30, 2013 6:42 PM
Comment #371801


The poor work less than the rich. This puts a lie to the idea that the rich are living off the labor of the poor. In fact, it looks like the poor are living at the expense of the rich. Whether this is moral or not depends on your interpretation. I suppose it is immoral for the poor to leach off the rest of us, but we can tolerate some charity.

Re family lives - I didn’t comment on that. My observation is that rich and poor have family troubles. However, the successful people I know seem to have better family lives than the losers.

re economic forces being moral - economic forces are neither moral nor immoral. How we use them is. My experience is that in general good, moral habits, i.e. don’t cheat on your spouse, work hard, don’t abuse drugs or alcohol etc are important indicators of success.

Posted by: CJ at September 30, 2013 7:17 PM
Comment #371804

I haven’t had a factory job where I wasn’t expected to work overtime. Mandatory overtime is commonplace. Employers would rather work someone overtime than hire another employee and pay the benefits for that employee. An employee making 20,000 a year will cost an employer over 40,000. Maybe more, now that the rules have changed.

Posted by: Weary Willie at September 30, 2013 9:14 PM
Comment #371806

Oh, come on, C&J! Morality has little to do with this. Were high income workers immoral or simply lazy for most of the past century? Were low income workers the embodiment of American values of hard work and responsibility for most of the past century? I doubt it.

The authors of the study look at changed economic work incentives for the flip in hours worked by income. I suggest that is where the answer lies.

Posted by: Rich at September 30, 2013 10:30 PM
Comment #371807

Add church going people to the list. Compare income of religious to the non-religious. Does that make a difference?

Posted by: Weary Willie at September 30, 2013 10:49 PM
Comment #371808

Posted by: Weary Willie at September 30, 2013 10:53 PM
Comment #371823


There has been a big shift that happened in our lifetimes. Only a few generations ago, most of what happened to you was beyond your control. But as opportunity spread, behaviors became more and more important.

I am not saying everyone can become rich, but it is possible for almost everyone not to be poor if they simply avoid some easily identifiable bad habits and embrace stability and hard work.

Re incentives to work - you are right. Incentives matter. Incentives, however, imply behavioral change, which takes us back to where we started.

One of my core beliefs, one that I see in journals I kept since I was in my 20s, is that you should try to behave like the person you want to be until you become that. Thirty years later, I can tell you take it mostly works. It is simple, but not easy. I feel sorry for people who won’t do that, but telling them that it is beyond their control doesn’t help them and hurts good people who might be discouraged from reaching their potential by the soft bigotry of low expectations.

Posted by: CJ at October 1, 2013 6:14 AM
Comment #371830

“There has been a big shift that happened in our lifetimes. Only a few generations ago, most of what happened to you was beyond your control.”

Are you saying that the “traditional American values of hard work and responsibility” that result in success are something new?

“Incentives, however, imply behavioral change, which takes us back to where we started.”

I think it fairly safe to say that most would agree that incentives are important, if not indispensable, variables in shaping behavior. I find it odd that you would argue against that concept. Are you saying that only in recent decades has the true character of the rich and poor been revealed? Frankly, the perception that Romney thought that way was the final nail in his coffin.

Posted by: Rich at October 1, 2013 9:00 AM
Comment #371859


Our horizons have broadened. In my father’s generation (he was born in 1921), there was a much stronger class structure. His chances of going to college were small. Over the course of the next decades, this changed. In 1921, America was the land of opportunity. But in 1921 your chances of going to a place like Harvard still depended mostly on your family position and the stupidest kid from a rich family had a better chance than a genius from a poor one.

What happened after 1921? Opportunity. We got very good at pulling up the worthy poor. Opportunity spread and discrimination diminished. All great. This had the effect, however, of stratifying society in a different way. The hard working poor left the old neighborhoods and the smart poor became doctors, lawyers, professors and diplomats. Whereas before much of the sorting had been based on things like family, ethnicity or race, under the new system, the sorting was based on intelligence, worth ethic and choices with an element of luck thrown in.

The tools we used to help the poor pull themselves up in the early 20th Century, became less and less effective in the latter half. We still kept the old paradigm that poverty resulted from circumstances, but it now is mostly a matter of behavior.

The paradox is that the more you equalize opportunity, the more you make the things that really count native intelligence, habits and choices.

Of course, revealing this is not popular. Nobody likes to take responsibility for their own failures. And as the dependent class grows, government will give them more in return for votes. It is an old story with the new twist of a type of cultural and cognitive elite that cares less about opportunity and finds in government controls the best way to maintain their positions, but is past master at hiding its self interest behind concern about “the poor.”

I have no intention of running for office. I know I could never win in today’s world. I would offer opportunity - but no guarantees - to those who would get off their asses and work hard. My opponents would tell voters that they were struggling because others were rich and/or racism, sexism, other isms. Unfortunately, the truth is not well suited to mass politics.

Posted by: CJ at October 1, 2013 7:34 PM
Comment #371862


So, are the new poor genetically inferior? The old poor had hard workers and smart members that seized new opportunities. But, the new poor not so much. Same opportunity but no drive to achieve. Frankly, the analysis is insulting to minorities and lower income families.

I grew up in an urban New England industrial city. I recently visited my old home town and had an opportunity to visit with a successful childhood friend who had been appointed to the school board. It is a failing school system in a failing city. He told me that he still visits the old neighborhood and still attends the same church. It is now entirely Hispanic. He said, Rich, these are the same people as our parents with the same values. But, the manufacturing jobs have left. There is not the same opportunities for the unskilled entry level worker to raise a family and provide for their children’s education. So, I respectively disagree that today’s inner city poor have the same opportunities as those in the post war period.

As I said before, the absence of first rung is a major problem in the US today.

Posted by: Rich at October 1, 2013 8:18 PM
Comment #371864


I make no assumptions about those things. I am simply stating an obvious trend. If you create equal opportunity, you can create more inequality, not less, as those more able to take opportunities move much farther.

Think of it like a race car and an old junker. In heavy city traffic, with lots of stop signs and impediments, they both will arrive at destinations about the same time. Clear the impediments and give an open road and the race car will shoot ahead.

One of the problems of the inner city has been the flight of the successful. One reason there are fewer opportunities is exactly that.

I don’t think it is useful to say that these things are insulting to minorities. That is a tactic used to block the path of inquiry.

If you look at the inner city in the last decades, you see a very interesting thing. Very poor Koreans and immigrant Haitians came in the 1970s and 1980s. The older generation is sometimes still there, tending small shops. Their children are mostly gone. They are doctors, lawyers and engineers. Why could Koreans and Haitians make it? How could they find that first rung? I suspect it was a difference in attitude and behaviors.

Like you, I grew up in a lower income area and like you, I got out. I had a group of ten friends. We didn’t move, so I knew them from kindergarten through HS. Of that group, only I really climbed out. I have thought about the “why me?” My old friends are not really lazy or particularly dishonest. But they have truly bad attitudes. They believe that the deck is stacked against them. They wait for opportunities to be given to them. Perhaps most important, they were unwilling to leave the neighborhood to seek better opportunities. But clearly WE were not oppressed. I am not sure why I picked up the better outlook. I think that it goes back to when I broke my leg when I was 11 years old. I was laid up for a long time and I started to read a lot, especially Roman history and developed a childish view of honor and responsibility that matured into a better attitude. When I came back to school, I was weakened, so the bullies beat me up. I responded by getting stronger. I am very thankful that I didn’t have the “advantages” of more protection.

I don’t think it is helpful to people to tell them that their problems are not their fault or to lower standards to help them. A good kick in the ass, even if delivered by a bully, is often better motivation than some well meaning weakling explaining why your life is so hard.

Posted by: CJ at October 1, 2013 9:38 PM
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