We provide a comprehensive focussed discussion of the long-term evolution of time budgets in a range of European, North-American and Pacific democracies, summarising arguments about the changing balances between work and leisure as well as paid and unpaid work. We contrast economists’ assumptions about the purely instrumental nature of work, with sociological and social-psychological arguments as to why we might want or need work in and for itself. We use evidence from 16 countries drawn from the day-diaries included in the Multinational Time Use Study to describe trends in paid and unpaid work over five decades. We demonstrate: (1) the approximate historical constancy and cross-national similarity in the total of paid plus unpaid work time; (2) a gender convergence in work patterns and the emergence of the phenomenon of iso-work; and (3) a reversal in the human capital- related work-leisure gradient, which we associate with a relative decline in “industriousness” in the paid work of early 21st century societies.

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