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Would We All Be Happier If We Worked Less?

Lean in, opt out, or somewhere in between: most of the debate about work-life balance revolves around women's choices. But given the option, wouldn't we all, men and women, prefer to work part-time?

work less 

(Photo Credit: David Castillo Dominic/freedigitalphotos.net)

Jennifer Senior at New York Magazine argues that we would:

"In fact, if you ask men what they prefer, as the marriage researcher Paul Amato and his colleagues did in 2000, 20 percent will tell you that they'd prefer to work part-time. Another 25 percent will say that they would prefer not to be working at all. In other words, only 55 percent of men in Amato's study wanted to work full-time."

Better for Us, and Better for the World

Research suggests that working fewer hours would be better for our health, the economy, and the environment. The authors of Time on Our Side, an exploration of the relationship between working hours and productivity, suggest that a shorter working week would benefit society, as well as individual workers' lives.

For one thing, they found no correlation between longer work hours and the strength of the economy. Simon Neville of The Independent points out that Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands all have shorter work weeks, but high productivity.

Culture and Law

So why do we continue to associate economic and personal success with working long hours? In part, because that's the way our society is set up.

"Employment law and welfare law encourages us, particularly in the U.S. and U.K., to work more than 40 hours a week," said Mike Harris, senior associate at the New Economics Foundation, in an interview with The Huffington Post. "That's bad for the economy, bad for the environment, and that's also bad for the person."

Maybe the answer, for the economy and for our own happiness, isn't for women to lean in, but for everyone to lean out -- a little bit, at least.

Tell Us What You Think

Would you work fewer hours, if you could? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

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