- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 13, 2008

Being busy and bragging about it may lose its luster as members of Generation X and Generation Y start pushing a more balanced approach to work and leisure and baby boomers retire, says Linda Nazareth, economist and author.

“The leisure economy is the opposite of what we have now, a time-crunch economy,” says Ms. Nazareth, author of last year’s “The Leisure Economy: How Changing Demographics, Economics, and Generational Attitudes Will Reshape Our Lives and Our Industries.”

“Leisure hasn’t been a powerful part of this economy for 30 years. People haven’t asked for leisure, and they haven’t had leisure,” she says.

Leisure time, as Ms. Nazareth defines it, is time to use as wished after working and taking care of housework, child care, errands and other necessities. The time-crunch economy, she says, is a baby boomer phenomena focused on long hours and high productivity in the office and, at home, the fastest way of doing things, drive-through eating and keeping a busy schedule.

The boomers — a generation 77 million strong born from around 1946 to 1964 — saw leisure as a luxury as they faced tough economic times and had to compete with each other in the job market, promising to work harder and longer hours to be competitive, she says.

As the boomers continue to retire during the next few decades, however, they will be replaced by the work force of Generations X and Y, who have a different attitude toward work, Ms. Nazareth says.

“They’re going to shape the work force and family life, so they’ll have more time for things beside work,” says Ms. Nazareth, who lives in Toronto.

Gen X and Gen Y workers — as well as retired boomers — will want to fill their time with more leisurely activities, such as hobbies, entertainment, volunteerism and travel, Ms. Nazareth says. To get their leisure time, Gen X and Gen Y workers will be asking for more time off, flexible hours and telecommuting opportunities, she says.

Some psychologists and sociologists, however, do not see the emergence of a leisure economy.

The workers of Gen X and Gen Y, although they may value leisure, may not be able to put their values in practice when they encounter the pressures of the job market, says Jerry A. Jacobs, professor of sociology at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

“I’m sympathetic with the goals being described by Ms. Nazareth,” says Mr. Jacobs, who holds a doctorate in sociology. “I would love to see a society where jobs were more flexible and there was a greater appreciation of leisure time. … I like her goals. I’m not sure the society we’re currently in is enabling us to get there.”

Ms. Nazareth agrees that job market pressures have prevented leisure values, especially for Gen Xers, who have been working in a boomer-dominated work force and unable to push their agenda, she says.

However, over the next several years, members of Gen Y, along with those in Gen X, will gain bargaining power, due to a low unemployment rate and a projected shortage of workers as aging boomers retire, she says.

The younger generations also want leisure time because of the way they were raised, Ms. Nazareth says.

Gen Y, also called the millennials, born from around 1977 to 1999, are a laid-back generation that grew up in good economic times, able to try different activities from soccer to ballet, Ms. Nazareth says. Gen X, those born from around 1965 to 1976, are a smaller generation that also is more laid-back and lacks the corporate loyalty of the boomers, being more likely to change jobs, she says.

Sociologist Carol Caronna expects to see a push on large corporations from Gen Y workers to provide more flexibility in the workplace and to be more family friendly. Gen Y workers, the children of baby boomers, saw their parents work long hours with little vacation time, she says.

“They might say they didn’t like their parents being away from home all of the time,” says Ms. Caronna, assistant professor in the department of sociology, anthropology and criminal justice at Towson University in Towson, Md. She holds a doctorate in sociology.

The number of hours worked by boomers and Generations X and Y has shown little change, although the number of women working has increased since the 1960s, says John Robinson, professor of sociology at the University of Maryland in College Park. He is co-author of “Time for Life: The Surprising Ways Americans Use Their Time.”

“One of the things that seems to be going on is there’s a bigger educational gap,” says Mr. Robinson, who holds a doctorate in sociology. “People with college educations are spending more hours at work than those at lower levels of education.”

The push for a leisure economy may be hindered if the recession worsens, says Frank Farley, psychologist and professor at Temple University in Philadelphia. He says leisure time is affected more by technology than generational attitudes.

“The U.S. has one of the highest number of hours worked per week in the world,” says Mr. Farley, who holds a doctorate in psychology. “And it could be argued that people’s leisure time has invaded their work time, rather than the old-fashioned keeping them separate, with communications and technology so subtle and easy to use.”

Various technological devices and the use of telecommuting allows workers to work at their own pace, but it also means they are more available for work, Mr. Farley says.

“It can loosen up the schedule by which we work and sort of blur the distinctions between work and leisure,” he says. “In this new digital economy, less energy is expended. That might mean people have more energy to do more leisurely things.”

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