Wealthy, educated and working all hours: the rise of the 'super' working class

A new social class is emerging of highly paid, well-educated professionals who shun time-off to stay in the office.

by Elizabeth Anderson
Last Updated: 23 Apr 2014

Keynes once predicted that the 21st century working week would consist of just 15 hours, as rising wages and living standards would allow people to work fewer hours and enjoy more leisure time.

But research by Oxford University suggests the opposite is happening. A new 'super' working-class has emerged of wealthy professionals who would rather spend their time in the office than taking a holiday or spending time with friends.

In contrast to the top earners in the 1960s, these workers believe taking leisure time is just a sign of laziness, rather than a mark of their success. As Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary once told MT, ‘holidays are a complete waste of time. I do it because I have a wife and four children who insist that I have to go away every year otherwise they will be traumatised.’

The best-educated now work more than 9 hours a day, the longest hours in the workforce on average.  Traditionally, it was always those in less well paid jobs who worked the longest hours.

‘The best educated men used once to work much shorter hours for pay, an echo, still in the 1960s, of the end of 19th century leisure class ideology. But by the beginning of the 21st century they are working the longest hours in their exchange economy jobs,’ the study concluded.

The research, first published in the Telegraph, suggests that the hours worked by both men and women in each class are similar, but that more women have entered the workforce as educated females increasingly give up domestic duties and downtime for paid employment.

‘The best educated women move much more determinedly out of the industrious category of routine housework,’ the report authors said.

‘Better educated women everywhere, decade by decade, are stepping further and further away from the life by industriousness that had been a women’s lot from ancient days.’

Meanwhile analysis published by the New York Times suggests the American middle class is no longer the world’s richest. While the wealthiest Americans are outpacing many of their global peers, the New York Times says that across the lower- and middle-income tiers, citizens of other advanced countries have received considerably larger raises over the last three decades.


‘After-tax middle-class incomes in Canada — substantially behind in 2000 — now appear to be higher than in the US. The poor in much of Europe earn more than poor Americans,’ the article said.

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