A 2013 study released by New York Life of 2,000 Americans examined Americans’ financial and family values. The study asked respondents what they would be willing to exchange for a 50% pay increase. The study beamed that “very few” Americans would trade time off with their family. Despite these trying economic times, societal degradation, and moral decay, apparently Americans still value their families! America is okay after all, right?
Let’s look at the actual numbers. Of those surveyed, 43% of people would give up activities or hobbies for the 50% raise, and 35% would give up vacation time. 30% would give up sleep time every night… Fine, but 54% said they would give up evenings off from work! I don’t know too many folks spending their evenings at work who spend a lot of time with their family–and 54% is a strong majority. 45% said they would spend less time with their friends for more money–okay, but 20% said they would spend less time with their spouse (and these are just the people who admit it!).
Only 11% said they would give up time with their children for more pay, but are these numbers to celebrate? I guess so, so long as your only definition of “family” is spending more time with your kids (on holidays, since you are working late into the evening and get less vacation during the rest of the year), right? Americans grade their own relationships with their children understandably, as a B-plusses, but conversely rate their relationships with their spouses or their families at large both as B-minuses. What I’d like to see is the survey question reversed. Would you give up even 25% of your income in order to spend more time with your kids, spouse, or friends? Fat chance.
71% of respondents said they would “be happier” with more money. So let me get this straight: You’ll be happier, but you won’t have as much time with your wife, husband, or friends. You’ll spend less time sleeping, on vacation, on your hobbies, and probably with your kids too, since you are working into the evenings… How much happier would you be? Talk about having your cake and eating it too.
Rabbi Kuschner once said, and it has become a well known cliche, that “in all my years counseling those near death, I’ve yet to hear anyone say that they wish they spent more time at the office.” But it is true. The moral of the story here is that Americans think they are happier when they have more money, but have no time to spend it. Like in so many other facets of our lives, it appears that Americans are pretty deluded about the value that they place on their own families.
Brian Dyson, the CEO of Coca Cola once gave a commencement speech at Georgia Tech in 1996. He said:
Imagine life as a game in which you are juggling some five balls in the air. You name them – work, family, health, friends and spirit … and you’re keeping all of these in the air.
You will soon understand that work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. But the other four balls – family, health, friends and spirit – are made of glass. If you drop one of these, they will be irrevocably scuffed, marked, nicked, damaged or even shattered. They will never be the same. You must understand that and strive for balance in your life.
For all of our talk about valuing family over work, over money, or over material things, Americans just don’t. Not any more, at least. Humble as ever, Americans, having given themselves B-minuses in their marriages (which fail 50% of the time) gave themselves D-plusses in spirituality and F’s in participating in community events. I can’t imagine what an F looks like if B-minus looks like the American divorce rate.
One thing that we cannot be when we are this busy as a society, is spiritual. Another thing we cannot be, certainly, is involved in our community. How are we to share the love of God with a stranger on the street if we do not have the time to stop and listen to them? To talk to them? Make the time. Slow down. Cut the futility out of your life and focus on the utility and you’ll find your marriage, family life, spiritual life and your relationships with others will all improve. With that, I’m going to take a walk with my wife and daughter.
David Teesdale, grading America harshly for 28 years.