A Global view on work vs. income

I recently found this very interesting paper about global trends in hours worked vs. income. Something that can help put the first work problems of FIRE into a bit of context.

It’s a very well put together bit of research and shows some of the things that are quite obvious if you think about it.  How do the number of hours work relate to age, sex, ecucation level, sector, personal income, country income? Have a read and learn a little.

Click to access 5285.pdf

Most importantly of all, this dispells the myth that people are poor because they are lazy. It turns out that people in poorer countries work more than in wealthier countries.

Poorer people also have to spend more time working on things that richer people can outsource. You might not consider shopping a job as such but the convenience of shopping is overlooked for most of us – although the recent coronavirus escapades have taught us something about how precarious our food supply can be and what it’s like to wait for food in a line.

Who would have thought that?

And if you look at the graph you an see that peak hours worked in all countries tends to be between 30-45 and after that things tail off. The drop off is most pronounced in middle and high income countries. The average 67 year old in a high income country works less than the average 17 year old!

In fact, labour force participation is never 100% – so not everyone is holding down a 9-5. More people than you might expect are not putting their nose to the grindstone.

Think about this for a moment.

Maybe FIRE isn’t that radicle after all. Maybe you are just doing what you would have done a few years earlier. The numbers don’t show how many people die along the way – but you can be sure that the graph for life expectancy has an eerily similar look.

So, since the big drop off in high income countries is between 55-65 – pull that back 10-15 years is not that unusual.

Friends with kids

My wife and I decided to have kids in our 30s and like it or not that’s what happened. We are very glad that we did it this way but is comes with some compromises or drawbacks:

  1. Fertility rates – not a problem for us but things go downhill after 16 it seems
  2. Childcare – we don’t live near family and that’s a problem (solved by spending but that’s another story
  3. Deaths – my Dad died a while back and it would have been nice for him to play a part in our kids’ lives. This is a big regret
  4. We’ll be in our 50s before we are “free” again

People who have kids early (say <25) are at our age able to leave their kids alone while they leave the house – or even better go to the pub. Sure, their earlier lives were compromised but they now have a closer view of freedom again.

So with that in mind, I think that we’ve chosen to devote our first 5 adult years to education, the next 15 to work and maybe we should put all that on the back burner and focus on family. After all, we’ll look back in 15 years time and wonder why we gave so much of a shit about our work when it’s meaningless.

Bringing it back home

I am from a rich country and have benefits that people not only a generation or two ago didn’t have but also half the world right now. But I also have something else that is preying on my mind – limited life and a small window with my kids before they grow up to become teenagers.

My wife sometimes teases me that I’m saving money for no particular purpose. After all, most FIRE plans involve working away for years, saving money in the hope of one day doing something different. That doesn’t make much sense – since if you want to just be a surf bum, you don’t need to spend your best best years (and waves) working to then be carefree. So, maybe it’s time to think about where does this all go.

Adding up the hours

I reckon that excluding commuting, I’ve worked about 45 hours a week for 47 weeks a year for 15 years or 31,725 hours (or 3.62 years of my life). That’s maybe enough. I’m not convinced that there’s much benefit to work itself and what’s the fruit of your labour if you just keep working through your life and never living it.



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