John Maynard Keynes had many brilliant ideas, but plenty of people think he whiffed on his fifteen-hour workweek prediction. With technological advances and a massive accumulation of capital yielding a world that required less work, figuring out how to fill our newfound free time, Keynes wrote, would become our “permanent problem.”

But Keynes was no idealist. He listed a number of qualifiers that could derail his utopia: global wars (check), significant population growth (check), and the innate need we have for work itself. Humans, he said, “have been trained too long to strive and not to enjoy. It is a fearful problem for the ordinary person…if he no longer has roots in the soil or in custom or in the beloved conventions of a traditional society.”

And so here we are, approaching his conception of 2030, and the reverse may have happened: not only are we nowhere near a three-hour workday, but we’re working even more than we used to. One theory posits that work, passion, and identity have become so entangled that Americans can’t help working as much as they do, especially younger people reared on the do-what-you-love philosophy.

To plumb the depths of our working culture and our devotion to it, CivicScience asked almost 2,000 U.S. adults a series of questions regarding the extra time they spend working. The results prove that American workers, if anything, often fill their free time with more work.

For starters, 72% of workers in the U.S. say it’s normal for them to work extra hours for their job, with 40% dubbing it “very” normal. On top of that, 28% say it isn’t at all normal, but not that it never happens—meaning this could include some workers who put in extra time but do so less often. What it all goes to show, however, is that a significant portion of workers, about three-fourths at the least, contribute extra time to their jobs. And the majority say that doing so is the norm.

Breaking down the extra time shows that many workers who work extra hours are adding whole days to their work time. Almost one-fifth put in an extra half a day every week, while another 16% put in nearly an extra full day per week. Even if we look at the 57% who “only” contribute 1-2 hours of extra work per week, that equates to about six and a half days—more than a workweek—worth of extra time per year. Not only are the majority of American workers working more hours; many are doing it at a rate that more or less negates the vacation time they’re taking. (Or, in a lot of cases, not taking.)

As far as gender goes, a larger portion of men may work extra hours more often than women but fewer women are able to say that extra work hardly ever applies to them. For example, 39% of men say that putting in extra time is very normal, compared to 36% of women. But 44% of women say it’s “somewhat” normal, and only 20% would call it “not at all” normal. And all this while the majority of household work still falls on them, too.

The theory that younger adults may devote more extra hours to careers they see as integral to their identity might be only somewhat true. Working Millennials, for instance, say that devoting extra time to work is very normal far more often than either Gen X or Gen Z, though not as often as Boomers who are still in the workforce. Yet Gen Z owns the “somewhat” normal rate of working extra hours and, as more and more enter the workforce, they may find putting in extra time to be just as normal as Millennials. Of course, these results could also hint at another thing: perception.


Our perceptions say a lot about us. Sixteen percent of workers consider themselves very overworked (it drops to 13% when we look at adults overall), which seems like a lot until we remember that 72% of adults reported working extra hours to one degree or another. Either we’re tougher than we think, or we’ve just forgotten what it feels like to not spend so much time working.

Women are better at picking up on this than men. Despite being a bit less likely to work extra hours as part of a normal routine, they’re more likely to say they’re very overworked. Again, this probably has something to do with the abundance of work done around the house.

Representing the majority of today’s workforce, Gen X and Millennials naturally feel the most overworked. Yet the extent to which they feel it differs. Forty-two percent of Millennials say they’re very overworked, compared to 26% of Gen X.

Chalk it up to Millennials being Millennials, right? Maybe, but there’s probably more to it than that. For starters, they entered the working world during the Recession, which required working harder (read: longer) to squeeze into the workforce. And now many are getting a taste of what older generations already went through: juggling work while buying homes and starting families. With that in mind, it’s possible Gen X would have yielded the same perceptions several years ago, and it will be interesting to see if this bears out in the future for Gen Z, of which 39% already feels somewhat overworked.


If work and passion are interlaced, channeling extra hours into a career you love might be the key ingredient for happiness. Or it might not be. It’s actually pretty mixed. Most workers who report being happy (41%) normally work extra hours, though, at the same time, 50% of unhappy workers do too. And the portion of workers who feel neutral and normally work extra hours is neck and neck with those who hardly ever put in extra time.

Workers who usually work longer may have physical health going for them, though. Forty-three percent of people who exercise several times a week also normally put in extra working hours. Shockingly, the majority of workers who never work out are also the ones who tend to have the extra time for it. Whatever it is that keeps us going longer at our jobs doesn’t necessarily end when we finally clock out.

Ultimately, Keynes’s theory of the human drive to work appears to be winning the battle over his theory of technology and capital allowing us more free time. Plenty of adults of all ages, men and women, are working even harder, putting in more time on a normal basis than the standard 40-hour workweek. But, amazingly, we don’t always perceive ourselves as being overworked. Where does that lead us? Will we ever be okay shifting to a lower gear? Stay tuned to see what the next generation of workers thinks.