Meet the New Super Working Class


Via Counterparties, a new study suggests that we now have a “superordinate” working class: highly paid professionals who are so dedicated to their professions that they’d rather work in the office than engage in leisure or vacation time:

The best educated men used once to work much shorter hours for pay, an echo, still in the 1960s, of the end-of-19th century leisure-class ideology. But by the beginning of the 21st century they are working the longest hours in their exchange-economy jobs. And the best-educated women in each of the regime types, show an even more decisive differential movement into paid work.

Now add these trends together and we see, unambiguously, the 21st century reversed education/leisure gradient, with the best educated, both men and women, working, overall, a much larger part of the day than the medium-level educated, who in turn do more than the lowest educated. At least from the 1970s onwards, we see no decisive decline in overall work time, perhaps the slightly the reverse, with a small historical increase, particularly for the best educated, in the range 530 to 550 minutes per day. Industrious activities are transferred out of the money economy, and, replacing the 19th century leisure class, we find a 21st century superordinate working class.

The basic evidence is on the right. I guess I find it only modestly convincing. In 1961, highly educated men in the corporate world worked similar hours to their less-educated peers. By 2005, they were working a bit more, but their total work hours were actually down from their peak. Conversely, although it’s true that highly educated women have very plainly outpaced the working hours of their less-educated peers, this is hardly surprising given the immense change in opportunities allowed to women since 1961, as well as the vastly higher pay that well-educated women can now expect in the corporate world.

So yes: highly-educated professionals are working more than they used to. Are they working themselves into a new, 21st-century frenzy, though? The evidence for that seems fairly modest. The big story here seems to be a more prosaic one: women are basically catching up to men, which hardly comes as a surprise. Beyond that, though, the evidence for a rising Veblenesque warrior class that views long hours as a status symbol strikes me as weak. Obviously it exists in places like Wall Street and Silicon Valley, but I suspect that its broader impact is fairly limited.

DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily crazy—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America will move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily crazy—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America will move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate