The Original Affluent Society

In The Original Affluent Society, Anthropologist Marshall Sahlins argues that hunter-gatherers groups enjoyed an abundant and varied diet, worked little, relaxed a lot and had adequate means to satisfy their finite wants and desires therefore representing the apex of affluence. Modern society, in contrast, with its principle of scarcity, market economy and commodification of everything, creates infinite wants and desires where people hope to earn more to obtain more.  Consequently, they work a lot, have very little leisure time, and are never truly satisfied because of their infinite wants and desires.  For these reasons, Sahlins refutes the notion that affluence is reserved to the civilized.

“Where production and distribution are arragned through the behavior of prices, and all livelihoods depend on getting and spending, insufficiency of material means becomes the explicit, calculable starting point of all economic activity”

Students in the Anthropology in the Global Age decided to put these propositions to the test and investigate how people spend their time, how they feel about it and in general the relationship between happiness and time spent in various life activities.  Students were offered extra credit points to forward a survey (created with google docs) that aimed to see how people spend time in the global age.   Questions were also asked to gauge how they feel about the way they spend their time, their beliefs about leisure and work, and how happy they are in general.  We hoped to find out how Americans in the Global Age spend their time and how time in daily activities related to beliefs about leisure, work and happiness and finally to see if Sahlins hypotheses ring true.

144 people responded to the survey. 29% were male and 71% were female.  19% were single, 18% were dating and 63% were married.  The average age of respondents was 42.31.

Below is the average time spent in various activities

Hours/week

Variable

Mean

Std. Dev.
Work

39.72

30.90

Errands

16.15

12.10

Errands plus Work

55.86

27.14

Leisure Total

30.30

21.89

Leisure Alone

12.65

13.69

Leisure Family

11.38

11.92

Leisure Friends

6.27

10.30

Hrs/Day

Variable

Mean

Std. Deviation

Sleep

7.15

1.53

eat

1.06

.68

education

1.16

2.08

childcare

1.44

2.50

personal care

1.39

.89

The Sahlins article generates a number of hypotheses pertaining to our beliefs about how we spend time.

  1. In the modern age, we feel too busy.
  2. In the modern age, we desire more leisure
  3. In the modern age, we believe our lives are better when we have more leisure
  4. We worry about our future ability to provide for our families.  According to Sahlins, we engage in so much work and so little leisure because of the uncertainty created in modern life.
  5. Those who work a lot desire more leisure time.
  6. The more leisure we have the happier we are

Here’s what we found.

Hypothesis 1-4

Item

Median

Mode

I am too busy

3

3

I wish I had more leisure time

4

5

The more leisure time I have the better my life is

3

3

I worry about my ability to provide for myself and my family (if applicable) in the future?

4

5

It appears that we desire more leisure and worry about the future, but we do not necessarily believe we are to busy or believe that more leisure time will make our lives better.

Hypothesis 5

Desire More Leisure

Hrs. of Work (Errands + Employment)

.220**

**  p < 0.01

The above table indicates that those who work more do in fact desire more leisure as evidenced by the significant relationship found between amount of work and desire for more leisure.

Hypothesis 6

Total Leisure

Family Leisure

Alone Leisure

Friends Leisure

Happy

.150

.211*

-.040

.123

* p<.05

Interestingly, happiness is only correlated with leisure time spent with family.  (Happiness was measured with the 4 item Subjective Happiness Scale.)

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