Time Versus Money: What We Really Want

October 9, 2011


Time Versus Money: What We Really Want
By Kimberly Weisul

Would you rather have a job that pays $80,000 a year that lets you get 7.5 hours of sleep a night, or a job that pays $140,000 a year and allows you time for only six hours of sleep a night?

According to a recent study from researchers at Cornell University and the University of Michigan, the result may depend quite a bit on whether you’re a student or whether you’re working full-time. Here’s what they found:

The researchers actually asked two sets of questions, along the lines of, “Which of these would make you happier,” and “Which of these would you actually choose?” They were trying to see if people actually chose the things they thought would make them happy, or if they were willing to trade their own happiness for status, a legacy, or their family’s happiness.

The researchers didn’t address the dissimilarities in these findings. My own view is that more students would take the less-sleep job mostly because they’ve never gone a prolonged period without sleep. Most parents can tell you what it’s like to go months or even years without getting enough sleep, and it’s ugly.

Students may also think they’ll get a high-paying job for just a few years right out of college, pay off their debt, sock some money away, and then get a more mellow job. Of course, once they get used to a big income, relatively few young people willingly jump off the treadmill.

These results also suggest that companies’ work/life initiatives and perks might have a bigger impact on older workers than on those fresh out of school.

Cheap rent versus a long commute

The researchers also asked adults if they’d rather have a short commute or low rent. One hypothetical apartment was a 45-minute drive to work, and rent was 20% of the respondent’s income. The other apartment was a 10-minute drive to work, but cost twice as much. The apartments were identical in every other way.

This question is more similar to the first than it might appear. Both ask people to trade off money versus time. In the first question, 75% of adults chose time (sleep). In the second. 63% chose money (low rent).

The difference, of course, is that while your commute may eat into the amount of time you could spend sleeping, most people probably don’t see it that way. They figure they’ll make up the time somewhere else. But being told flat-out that you won’t be getting enough sleep is too much to take. Unless you’re a student.

Would you prefer a high-paying job that didn’t let you get more than six hours of sleep, or one that paid less but let you sleep 7.5 hours a night?


By Kimberly Weisul

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