Do The Rich Work Harder? Is The Key To Wealth Hard Work?

It is often assumed that because the rich have amassed a fortune, that they really don’t have to work very hard, and that in general that they work less than others who are less well off.   They just have others to do the work for them.  It’s an assumption that is even held by some of the wealthy.

British billionaire Richard Branson is quoted today as saying that the wealthy don’t work harder than everyone else–they are just fortunate.

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“Yes, entrepreneurs may work hard, but I don’t think they actually work any harder than, say, doctors, nurses or other people in society, and yet tremendous wealth comes with it and therefore enormous responsibility comes with that wealth, responsibility to do good things, maybe create new businesses and maybe tackle some of the more seemingly intractable problems in the world

While I might agree that with wealth comes an enormous responsibility, I don’t think that the assumption he makes about the wealthy not working harder than other people in society would bear out.  Studies seem to agree:

studies on the comparative work habits of the wealthy tell a different story.

Research by professors Mark Aguiar and Erik Hurst combined the results of several large surveys (including studies where randomly chosen subjects kept detailed time diaries), and found that the working time for upper-income professionals has increased compared with 1965, while total annual working time for low-skill, low-income workers has decreased.

As David Brooks put it in a 2006 column: “For the first time in human history, the rich work longer hours than the proletariat.”

So those who had high income professions tended to work longer hours than those in lower skilled lower income professions.

I really do think that in our day and age being in poverty and having a low income has become much more tolerable than it may have been in the past.  Even those who are poor and living on government benefits can have a TV, game console, a car, food to eat through local charities or government programs and the rest of their basic necessities covered.  In the past, they would have had much less, and had to work much more for it.  I’m not sure it is completely a good thing to have so much more available for so little.

Being Wealthy And Successful Isn’t All Fun And Games

With those working so hard to become wealthy you might think that they also play hard, but research has shown that the wealthy also found less time for leisure pursuits.

Research by Daniel Kahneman, the Nobel Prize-winning psychologist, shows that “being wealthy is often a powerful predictor that people spend less time doing pleasurable things and more time doing compulsory things and feeling stressed.”

His study found that people who earn less than $20,000 a year, for instance, spent more than a third of their time in passive leisure, like kicking back and watching TV. By contrast, those earning more than $100,000 a year (more affluent than wealthy), spent less than a fifth of their time in passive leisure.

My own experience tells me that the wealthy work insanely hard. I spent Monday and Tuesday with a billionaire who got up at 4:30 a.m., held meetings and business briefings until 9 p.m., ate dinner, then worked on emails until 2 a.m. He woke up at 5 a.m. the next morning, and started all over again. Seven days a week. This entrepreneur hadn’t taken a day off in 10 years (and I checked).

So apparently being wealthy isn’t all unicorns and rainbows. Quite often you’ve become wealthy and well off for a good reason. You’re motivated, disciplined and you work hard.

The number that really surprised me in the above quote, however, was the one that said those who earn less than $20,000 a year spent more than a third of their time in passive leisure, while those earning more than $100,000 spent less than a fifth of their time doing the same.    That’s quite a difference!

Finding A Balance Between Hard Work, Passive Leisure And Other Things

For me I think it’s commendable that by working hard, being motivated and disciplined you can find success.   I know that not everyone who works hard becomes wealthy and that not everyone who has a low income job spends as much time in passive leisure pursuits.   Personally I think the sweet spot lies somewhere in between where  you work hard, but you also play hard.   You are dedicated to your career, but your family comes first.  You spend some free time in leisure, but you don’t become a couch potato.

I believe in moderation in most things.  If you let one thing become too important in your life, like your job or like your leisure pursuits, it can have an unhealthy and damaging effect to your life.   Anything can become an idol if you allow it to, and it can ruin your life.

So my motto is to love God and my family, to work hard, and to play hard.  How about you?

Do you think that the wealthy work harder than those who aren’t as well off?  Can you see how you might be able to spend less time in passive leisure, and more in promoting your career and work life?  Do you think it can be hard to find a balance? Tell us your thoughts in the comments.

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I’m a thirty-something Christian Midwestern father of one son, and have been happily married for 9 years to my beautiful wife. I love playing tennis, shooting hoops, or taking part in the occasional flag football game. Of course, I love writing and financial topics as well, and that's how this site came into being! Check me out on Google +!

Last Edited: 14th October 2010


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  1. says

    I can feel the study that says top income earners tend to work harder than everyone else. To be in the class of people, your drive has to be off the chart.

    However, I would differ with the wealthy. Maybe this just just semantics, but wealth has to do with assets things of that nature, not necessarily income. And the top wealthy people in this country and world don’t work hard. In fact, most are trust fund babies that are living on the passive income created by their wealth that was passed along to them

    Yet, I understand what you are saying in the article and feel like foregoing some of the leisures of life is critical to being able to pass a fortune along to my children so they can live off of what I have earned.

    it is worth it to me…and besides, if you enjoy the work, isn’t it really leisure?

  2. SJ says

    But is there a correlation between working harder and being wealthy? Does hard work lead to wealth, or does being wealthy suck up your free time?

    Also, it’s medically impossible for someone to operate for an extended period of time on only 3 hours of sleep per day.

  3. says

    I’ve known and worked with wealthy people and they all worked very hard. I also think we see more people not working hard and being comfortable with that as we have become more dependent on government to take care of us. That has stifled ingenuity and motivation. I also thank God for all the hard working people who are not wealthy. They too are what makes the world go around!

  4. says

    “Do you think that the wealthy work harder than those who aren’t as well off?”

    I work with High Net Worth Individuals literally on a daily basis. HNW in terms of $5mil to $100mil and all I often hear the saying, “Lady luck likes to hang around those that work the hardest”

  5. PJ Parker says

    Not true. I work three jobs, so if you compare only one of my jobs with that of a rich person’s job, your premise is flawed.

    It is much harder to do manual labor. No one wants to do it. That’s why people want to get an education and get rich.

    It is much harder to work for someone else than to work for yourself. You will never get rich working for someone else.

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