Millennials: High-Powered Careers Are for Suckers Who Don’t Have Lives, Study Says

If you’re on the bottom rung at a white-collar job, you may rethink climbing the corporate ladder after you get a load of this news from “The jobs where people are most likely to work over 40 or 45 hours a week are highly-paid professional positions like lawyers, business management, engineering, and finance.”

The people working the most shocking hours? White dudes at the top of their professions. Writes author Jeff Spross, “In America over the last few decades, the association between leisure and privilege has been flipped on its head.”

No, this does not mean we should rethink drinking our morning coffee out of our “white male tears” mugs. It *does* mean that advancement within the white-collar world has a price, and that price is your leisure/self-care time. (I’d like to put in a vote for calling it “self-care time” since for most of us, that’s what it is and should be regarded as, with a few hours left after “household management time” for actual “leisure time.”) We may not be crying for those who walked into privilege, but for young millennials of a generation making great professional strides for women and minorities, this is a hard pill to swallow.

Why has time at work increased for those at the top? While economic inequality has widened — trickle-down proving to be a myth, unless you mean being pissed on — the lifestyle of working-too-damn-much has, one might say, trickled up. Spross writes:

“Workers are competing for jobs, rather than employers competing for workers, so everyone — including professional-class white men — is worried about losing his or her job. As Boushey and Ansel write, ‘rising economic inequality increasingly causes workers — even those near the top of the income and wealth ladder — to feel financially insecure.’”

Spross reports that it’s also because the industries with the biggest gaps between professional incomes (think tech) are so competitive that well-paid workers feel a drive to agree to longer hours lest lower-paid workers swoop in to nab their jobs.

Of course, it’s important to point out here that the working class and cash-strapped have always worked long hours — the statistic Spross cites that suggests that those in low-income positions work less doesn’t account for those who have to work two or three jobs to make up for inadequate shift work (see: bossman not wanting to cover benefits). And where they can’t find work, low-income workers experience a crippling economic insecurity such that working 60+ hours at an intellectually challenging job for a good six-figure salary would be welcome. I’d argue that leisure and privilege haven’t been flipped — leisure is still a luxury that in many ways is harder to come by for those without financial means, since the way we typically enjoy leisure (consuming stuff) and maintaining survival are still at odds. That said, economic inequality and the threat of financial ruin screws nearly everyone but those with inherited wealth in some impactful way, especially in terms of wellbeing and emotional health.

Those who are building their careers — who are neither in low-income jobs nor managerial positions — may be doing some desperate quality-of-life calculus at this point. But no matter how you slice it, heavy job competition means we’re looking at a very bleak scenario with little in the way of choice. As Spross states, “In today’s economy, the alternative to working more isn’t enjoying quality time with friends and family. The alternative is nothing [my emphasis]. The American workplace has basically become a Thunderdome where the victors are rewarded with long hours.”

Welcome to the Thunderdome, bitches. photo by Martin de Witte

For those millennials who have worked their Ritalin-fueled, Phi Beta Kappa butts off on the societally-accepted, baby-boomer-pushed presumption that ambition and hard work would buy freedom — and for many of our diverse and marginalized set, with the hope that they’d achieve the lifestyle of the born-privileged — this seems like a paradox that might drive you to look up at the sky with pleading hands only to find God laughing. Those high-paid jobs cost hours needed for precious mental, emotional and physical health that’s already vastly undervalued in the U.S.: time for exercise, for family and friends, for creative work, and for cleaning the sticky mold-like stuff under the stove that you’re pretty sure is slowly killing you. But then, not advancing is also not a particularly appealing option in this economy, especially if you value the path you’ve chosen and want a fulfilling (or, hell, any old) career that can support you and your potential or actual family. (Note: the average cost of raising a child is around 250,000 bucks. : ) Without sounding too hyperbolic — we’re all trapped in the Thunderdome ’til death (or retirement — is that still a thing?). Aren’t you AMPED?

Unless you LOVE your work such that giving up hours of self-care/leisure/household management time doesn’t seem like a sacrifice — and that really, pragmatically, seems like the best option if you can get it, buster — we’re more or less looking at a long, über-stressful, difficult road ahead, whether that’s a sleep-deprived climb up the professional ladder or sticking it out at a low-wage gig slinging lattés that we’ve decorated with intricately-designed foam flowers because we have to put our creative energy somewhere, my god. Something’s gotta give.

Originally published at on June 25, 2016.