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  • General Discussion

William Dickens argued that subjective rankings of the pleasurableness or unpleasurableness of activities have probably changed over time, although this is impossible to measure. What one can measure is the changing occupational and educational composition of the population. He wondered if breaking the results down by education or occupational category might illuminate the changing patterns of work and leisure.

Isabel Sawhill wondered about shifts in the types of work that people do over time and, since people spend about half of their waking hours at work during the workweek, how these shifts might affect their happiness.

Gary Burtless suggested that the most dramatic shifts in time use have probably occurred among people between the ages of sixty and seventy-two; some of Alan Krueger's earlier data on time use cover people between ages nineteen and sixty-four, which would miss these shifts.

Christopher Sims worried that people might think of utility as the time integral of the U-index, which could be misleading. For example, people may feel unhappy during activities such as training for a marathon or performing "unpleasant personal maintenance," but it is unlikely they would be happier overall if they did not do these things. Thus, he suggested, there may be something unmeasured that is connected to these activities and is part of overall welfare. If this is true, it could be dangerous to take policy steps to shift time use toward activities that appear more enjoyable. Krueger replied that the activities Sims described are, in effect, investments, and that policy actions certainly should take account of the returns to these investments. Some of the returns are reflected in the affect data, but some are not.

Robert Hall commented on television's contribution to well-being. Although people do not typically view television watching as an activity that makes them very happy, they also report self-control issues regarding [End Page 216] television: for example, they watch television instead of going to bed even though they realize that going to bed would actually make them happier.

Lawrence Katz wondered about the difference between average and marginal enjoyment. On average, socializing with friends might be more fun than watching television, but a person may have "marginal" friends with whom socializing is less fun than watching television. Katz also asked whether travel time to and from activities should be included in those activities or treated separately. For example, meeting friends involves traveling to and from a meeting place.

William Nordhaus wondered about the accuracy of historical time use reports. He also wondered how best to account for activities that are performed simultaneously, which are difficult to measure separately. He commented that paid work in the Bureau of Labor Statistics survey is a black box that should be investigated in the future. Krueger replied that the Princeton Affect and Time Survey asks follow-up questions about work episodes, such as whether the boss was present, whereas the BLS survey does not. Data from the PATS show that people feel stress at work when they spend time with their bosses, but not when they socialize with their friends, and they are typically less happy at work when they are alone. Krueger acknowledged that more research could be done on the relationship between working conditions and affect at work.

Krueger also noted that cultural and language factors affect reported life satisfaction measures, which makes them problematic for cross-cultural comparisons. For example, surveys in France indicate that people there are less likely to use the upper end of satisfaction or happiness scales, which makes them appear less happy than Americans, even though they typically work fewer hours and eat better food. The U-index, which compares the intensity of positive and negative emotions, is one way to overcome this problem. [End Page 217]



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