How the Rich Spend Their Time: Stressed
Leisure class gives way to workaholic elite scrambling to maintain their place in life
Being rich used to get you into the leisure class. Money meant freedom -- from work, money worries, household chores and screaming kids (via boarding school).
Now, however, the wealthy seem to be as besieged as ever. The leisure class has given way to what I call the workaholic wealthy -- an elite of BlackBerry-crazed, network-obsessed, peripatetic travelers who have to keep scrambling to maintain their place in life.
According to research by Daniel Kahneman, the Nobel Prize-winning behavioral economist, quoted in an article in the Washington Post, "being wealthy is often a powerful predictor that people spend less time doing pleasurable things and more time doing compulsory things and feeling stressed."
People who make less than $20,000 a year, for instance, spent more than a third of their time in passive leisure, like kicking back and watching TV. By contrast, those making more than $100,000 a year (I would call them affluent, not wealthy), spent less than a fifth of their time in passive leisure. "The richest people spent nearly twice as much time as the poorest people in leisure activities that were structured and often stressful -- shopping, child care and exercise."
In short, stereotypes about the leisure class no longer hold true. "In reality," Mr. Kahneman and his colleagues wrote in a paper they published in the journal Science, "they should think of spending a lot more time working and commuting and a lot less time engaged in passive leisure."
Definitions are key here. Personally, I wouldn't classify exercise as compulsory or stressful. And the true rich ($10 million or more), may be exceeding their less-wealthy peers in true indolence. But my experience suggests that the rich are as stressed and un-relaxed as the merely affluent.
Why? Globalization and competition are probably the big reasons. People with top jobs and businesses -- i.e., the wealthy -- have to work harder than ever to remain competitive. Big investors also have to work more in ever-more-complicated financial markets to maintain their dinosaur-size nest eggs. Add to that the increasing complexity of life at the top -- constant requests for money, overseeing wealth managers, lawyers and household staff -- and the good life becomes its own management job.
Maybe being rich isn't as relaxing as it seems.
by Robert Frank
Friday, July 4, 2008
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