Why electricity and plumbing hasn't saved us time

Tim O'Donnell

Technology doesn't make life easier.

The Atlantic reports that despite an array of advancements like electricity, air conditioning, plumbing, and refrigerators, housework remained as intensive in 1960 as it did in 1900 — and the reasons why can likely explain why everyone's so burned out these days too.

In an interesting article at The Atlantic, Derek Thompson outlined three reasons why technology might not save us time. First, it creates higher expectations — so when it becomes easier to keep things clean, for example, the more determined everyone becomes to stay clean. Second, people are also concerned about their status, so they expend a lot of energy keeping up appearances and preparing their children to succeed.

But the biggest reason might be because of what bosses think — or in the case of women who remained at home in the first half of the 20th century, what their husbands thought. "I think the biggest reason that labor-saving technology in the home didn't actually reduce labor for housewives is that the opportunity cost of women's labor was socially valued at zero," economist Juliet Schor said. "By that I mean, a lot of men wanted their wives to keep busy but assumed that they would be worthless outside the home, as salaried workers, like lawyers or doctors."

Eventually, women joined the workforce en masse, which wound up being the major factor in reducing their in-home labor. But, looking outside the home, similar lessons can be learned today, The Atlantic notes. Even as technology improves, an economy-wide reduction in work hours is unlikely unless there's a restructuring of the relationship between employees and employers. Read more at The Atlantic.

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