“Meaningless” Prosperity

From the Henley Center’s 1999 study, “The Paradox of Prosperity”

Contrary to previous representations of well-to-do people as idle landed gentry, the modern axiom seems to be that those earning the most money often have the least time to enjoy the fruits of their labor. In other words, high “standards of living” are not necessarily accompanied by high “quality of life”:

• 59 percent of UK citizens are now burdened by excessive time pressure, believing they “never seem to have enough time to get things done.”…

Working late hours and skipping holiday entitlement exerts huge demand on family life and relationships, as we see below, but “downshifting” to a lower paid job with less stress and more free time remains an option that people are reluctant to take. Although they may aspire to a more relaxed lifestyle, they have also become accustomed to the material trappings of the high-powered career and would find it difficult to live without a house full of expensive consumer durables or to remove their children from expensive schools and extra-curricular activities. In addition, the need to contribute to pension plans, insurance policies and other areas of private provision may take people beyond the point of no return. For women especially, there is more pressure these days to “do it all”—to manage an executive career rather than “simply” being a housewife or mother (although they frequently end up having to juggle these conflicting roles). Essentially, people have become trapped on a merry-go-round of demands, pressures and expectations, resulting in a constant plateau of stress.

• 22 percent of full-time workers would be willing to take a lower paid job if it meant less stress and more free time, but…

• 48 percent of workers say they need more money to keep up their quality of life.