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Kids today

They just don't study. Or, at the least, they just don't study like they used to. Students at four-year colleges devote about 14 hours each week to studying. In 1961, their parents were spending 24 hours each week studying.

There are a lot of things you could say about this number, but I'd just observe that it's common to justify high incomes by invoking hard work, but I'd much rather be a 20-year-old studying for two hours a day and hanging out with my friends than a 20-year-old working full time in retail because I didn't have the money or grades to go to college. There are perfectly good economic reasons to spend more money on people who the market values more highly, but our tendency to substitute a moral reason -- "hard work" -- is generally off base. Being a college-educated worker in the richest country the world has ever known is a pretty good deal, and given this country's crummy economic mobility, it's only rarely the result of an individual's hard labor.

By Ezra Klein  |  August 10, 2010; 2:51 PM ET
 
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Comments

I would imagine that most of the wealthy who have, indeed, built their wealth through hard work, (and there are many of them) would tell you that it has nothing whatsoever to do with the amount of time they did or did not spend studying as 20 year olds. Or even with being a college educated person in the richest country in the world. It really, truly, does have to do with hard work.

Posted by: bgmma50 | August 10, 2010 3:17 PM | Report abuse

I would, however, agree that being a college educated person in the richest country the world has ever known is a pretty good deal. Especially if you can get a paid gig writing on a blog all day. Hard work or not.

Posted by: bgmma50 | August 10, 2010 3:21 PM | Report abuse

Hard work my a**. 100 CEOs put together don't work nearly as hard as a hotel maid. THAT is hard work.

Posted by: labonnes | August 10, 2010 3:28 PM | Report abuse

I wouldn't characterize being a hotel maid as particularly pleasant work. But hard? Not terribly.

And while I don't count any Fortune 500 CEOs or investment bankers among my acquaintance, I do know any number of people of some means who got that way through decades of risk taking, long hours, and hard work spent building up their business.

But I'm sure it all looks very easy to twentysomething college students who can't be bothered to study. They have a very rude awakening ahead.

Posted by: bgmma50 | August 10, 2010 3:46 PM | Report abuse

In 1961, their parents were spending 24 hours each week studying.

That would be their GRANDparents, dude. That was 50 yrs ago.

Posted by: rjewett | August 10, 2010 4:07 PM | Report abuse

I wonder if this relates to the rise in the importance of internships. I graduated college recently, and while I was in school my friends and I usually had internships that took up at least 10 hours a week. These internships are more or less mandatory nowadays in the job market because nobody wants to hire somebody who has no office experience. So yes, study hours have gone down, but perhaps hours spent doing other career-prep activities has taken up the slack, rather than simply going into increased leisure time.

Posted by: alaskaman | August 10, 2010 4:13 PM | Report abuse

In 1961, their parents were spending 24 hours each week studying.

That would be their GRANDparents, dude. That was 50 yrs ago.

Posted by: rjewett | August 10, 2010 4:07 PM |

LOL, maybe if you had your kids at age 18, and your kids also had THEIR kids when they were 18. But I know plenty of 50 year old parents with college age kids.

Age 50 isn't that old from where I stand.

Posted by: Policywonk14 | August 10, 2010 4:16 PM | Report abuse

@policywonk14:

If you were in college in 1961, today you are probably somewhere beetween 67 and 73 years old. How many 70 year olds do you know with college age kids (there certainly are some, but the poster you are responding to is still broadly correct)?

Posted by: eggnogfool | August 10, 2010 4:29 PM | Report abuse

I can't believe they write off technological improvements as factors in math and science. Not sure if it's ignorance or just lack of reflection, but the technological advances related to the work of a math or science major have been HUGE.

Or do they really not think that people benefited from having calculators instead of slide rules? Advanced statistical software and computers that can execute assignments? I was a math major--with a theoretical focus, not even applied--and technology saved me loads of time on my homework (not that many years ago).

Additionally, some of the critical time-saving advances in computing technology DID occur before '81. Oy.

Posted by: gbrunet | August 10, 2010 4:32 PM | Report abuse

"Being a college-educated worker in the richest country the world has ever known is a pretty good deal, and given this country's crummy economic mobility, it's only rarely the result of an individual's hard labor."

Well, someone worked hard at some point (often the parents or grandparents), and where you do find someone moving from poor-to-rich, there's almost certainly hard work involved. Much of that hard work is in preparation and self-education, and another part of that hard work is in flexibility--changing strategies and taking risks.

While I worked hard to learn much of what I have used in my career, I didn't have to work hard for the conditions to learn--opportunity for an education, relative safety, a comfortable house, and food on the table. My parents worked hard for that, my grandparents worked hard for that.

BTW, I've also known a lot of people who work very hard, but also spend a lot of time spinning their wheels. Hard work is not necessarily productive work. Some goal setting, and prioritizing, can make the difference between working hard and getting nowhere, or working hard and getting somewhere. However, you are much more likely to be better off for some thoughtful hard work than you will be for doing nothing.

Tangent: I worked very hard at mastering a multimedia development environment (mTropolis, google it). I spent 2 years mastering this product, which was then killed, making all my hard work largely worthless. I wuz robbed! The government owes me some money. For fairness and stuff.

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | August 10, 2010 4:43 PM | Report abuse

Policywonk can't do math. If you were in college in 1961, you can't also have been born in 1961.

Posted by: rjewett | August 10, 2010 4:43 PM | Report abuse

--"given this country's crummy economic mobility"--

Klein's second link above goes to another Klein/HarvardBoy fraud of an earlier post wherein the two compare apples to oranges, declare them equivalent, and thereby establish a baseline from which to propagandize against the country.

The growing failure of the U.S. government education establishment in neatly encapsulated in Klein's shortsighted (and missing the point, entirely): "I'd much rather be a 20-year-old studying for two hours a day and hanging out with my friends than a 20-year-old working full time in retail because I didn't have the money or grades to go to college."

Yes, those taxpayer subsidized college environments are the bees knees, ain't they, Klein? Unfortunately, the people coming out of those environments are increasingly as sure of themselves an their abilities as they are increasingly inept regarding same. And you, Klein, are the phenomenon's poster boy.

Posted by: msoja | August 10, 2010 4:44 PM | Report abuse

And yet, msoja, you hang on his every word, contributing multiple views to his blog, ensuring his success....

Posted by: JkR- | August 10, 2010 4:49 PM | Report abuse

In a recession, there will be people who say that the investment in a college education isn't worth the cost. There are even some who feel that vocational training (think job training) falls in the same category. My guess is that the return on investment isn't as clear cut. It just boggles the mind when you hear or read about liberal arts graduates entering the job market with $100k of college loan debt. From a social perspective, more education is better than less. Even if it is looked at as an insurance policy. But the cost of college tuition today makes the cost-benefit less favorable than 50 years ago or even 20 years ago. The current and near-term job market outlook doesn't help.

Posted by: tuber | August 10, 2010 5:06 PM | Report abuse

This post is a non sequitur reeeaaaaaccccchhhhhh.

Posted by: bigless55 | August 10, 2010 5:14 PM | Report abuse

"Policywonk can't do math. If you were in college in 1961, you can't also have been born in 1961."

Correct. Someone with kids in college now, even if they had deferred having kids until their 30's, would have been approximately in kindergarten in 1961.

Posted by: Patrick_M | August 10, 2010 5:37 PM | Report abuse

I'm guessing that the internet has a lot to do with this. I was at school for two years before I physically stepped foot into one of the libraries. Hunting and pecking through physical journals for sources probably takes a lot longer than using a search engine. Also, I've never used a typewriter but I imagine using a word processor is quicker/easier.

Grade inflation probably matters a lot too. There is a marginal benefit and marginal cost of studying. To the extent classes are easier now than in 1961, the marginal benefit of studying has fallen. The marginal cost is probably slightly higher now too, since in 1961 there was no urge to check facebook, twitter or the latest episode of reality tv, though I'm sure students in the early 1960s placed a high value on their free time as well.

Posted by: justin84 | August 10, 2010 6:02 PM | Report abuse

I'll admit to studying that little in college. Grad school then kicked my ass for, at least in my program, you needed to study more like 14 hours a day. I didn't have those skills going in and the transition was rough. People from other countries did.

Posted by: nylund | August 10, 2010 7:54 PM | Report abuse

"Leisure means time that is spent neither working (for pay) nor studying."

What an odd thing to not include internships and other kinds of non-paid work as part of work. Since when does non-paid work equal leisure time?

Also, anyone who claims they got to wherever they are through hard work alone has selective amnesia. Full stop.

Posted by: slag | August 10, 2010 8:18 PM | Report abuse

You can work very very hard all your life and still owe a great deal of your success to the luck of where and to whom you were born. And someone who gets a big head start can still beat someone that works really had but doesn't.

Posted by: MosBen | August 10, 2010 9:25 PM | Report abuse

Kevin, I totally remember mTropolis. Seemed like a really cool platform at the time.

As for the 1961 students, they were very good at lying about how much time they spent studying.

Posted by: dpurp | August 10, 2010 10:48 PM | Report abuse

When I went to college, the basic week was 36 hours of class time plus about 24-36 hours of homework/study. That works out to 60+ hours per week, which is more than I work now. Even if the hours studying were reduced to 14 it would still be 50+ hours once you added in the time spent in lectures and lab.

Don’t journalist have to go to lectures too?

Posted by: Doug44 | August 11, 2010 1:22 AM | Report abuse

Ezra,

Are you sure AEI is a credible source of facts?

Are there other studies showing anything like this?

Richard H. Serlin

Posted by: Richard722 | August 11, 2010 2:44 AM | Report abuse

Shorter bgmma50:

"No, but yeah, you're wrong."

Posted by: ibc0 | August 11, 2010 11:07 AM | Report abuse

I'm not even sure what that comparison means. Kids didn't use computers in 1961... no word processing, no Google, Google books or Wikipedia, iPads, etc. Of COURSE it took longer for them to study.

Posted by: roquelaure_79 | August 11, 2010 3:07 PM | Report abuse

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