Last Updated on November 27, 2022 by Karl Thompson
The average person in the U.K. will spend 19.6% of their total waking hours at work based on a life expectancy of 79.05 years. Based on a 50 year full-time working life they will spend 29.4% of their waking hours during their working life at work.
NB – I’ve limited my definition of work to mean ‘paid employment’!
What percentage of your life will you spend at work?
If you work for the entirety of your adult life until pensionable age in the UK then you will be engaged in some form of paid employment from the age of 18 years to of age to 68 years of age, which is an equivalent of 50 years of paid-employment.
If we take the average amount of hours worked per week, which was 36.5 hours February to May 2022 according to the Average actual weekly hours of work for full-time workers (seasonally adjusted) (1) then you will work a total of 85 775 hours in the course of your working life (based on a rough calculation of 36.5 hours *(52-5 = 47 weeks to take account of holidays)*50 years).
NB I used the February to May statistics because there has been a trend of increasing weekly hours since the end of the lockdowns during the Pandemic. The figures for summer-autumn 2022 are slightly lower, but the trend is up so I went with the highest post-pandemic figures for working hours.
Expressed as terms of a percentage of your life, this 36.5 hours a week spent working is equivalent to.
- 12.4% of your total time over the course of a 79.05 year period (based on the average projected life expectancy of 79.05 for people born in the year 2005 according to a Google search for ‘Life expectancy UK’, accessed 27/11/2022).
- 18.6% of your total time during the course of a 50 year working-life period.
- 19.6% of your total waking hours over a 76 year lifespan, assuming 8 hours of sleep a night.
- 29.4% of your total waking hours over a 50 year working-life period assuming 8 hours of sleep a night
- 50% of your total waking hours during any given working day.
How to spend less time at work
Of course the above amount of time actually spent working will vary depending on a variety of factors, not least on your income and expenditure, but also on the generosity of your parents, any inheritance you might receive, returns on investments, and any time you spend on benefits, but the most crucial variable (or combination of variables) which determines how many hours you are going to work over the course of your life is, for most people, the amount of income you earn in relation to your expenditure.
In short, the less you spend in relation to your income, then the less income you need, and the fewer hours, days, weeks, months and years (whichever is the least painful way of counting it!) you will need to work.
The maths behind this (thanks to Jacob Lund Fisker) is actually surprisingly simple – If you take home £20 000 a year, spend £18 000 and save £2000, then it will take you 9 years to save up enough to live for a year (£2000 *9 = £18000).
If you can inverse this ratio, and save £18 000 a year and get used to living off only £2000 then if you work for one year you will have saved enough to live for another 9 years.
If you look at this over the course of a working life, if you can keep the first scenario up (saving £2000/ year) then over 45 years you would save enough to live off for five years, meaning you could retire 5 years earlier, at 62 years of age. In the second example, you could work for 5 years and then retire on your savings at the age of 23, albeit on a lower income.
The first ‘hypothetical’ example is pretty close to the norm in the UK today. In 2012-13 the average personal annual income after tax for the 50th percentile income-earner was £18 700, while the average annual expenditure for the middle quintile of single person households in 2013 was £16016, leaving a potential savings capacity of approximately £2700 a year for those of middling income and expenditure. (based on the ONS survey of personal income and Equivalised income.)
The second example above is, for most of us, going to remain hypothetical because it is just too extreme. However, consider the half way situation – If, on an average annual take-home salary of £20 000 you can learn to live off £10 000 a year and save £10 000 – you could potentially only work for 25 years…. meaning you could retire at age 43.
We work less today than in 2016
I first wrote this post in 2016, when I was extremely disappointed with the results returned when I typed the question above into Google – so I thought I’d do the calculations myself.
Back in 2016 the stats below applied which were based on the annual survey of hours and earnings, when the total amount of working hours were 39.2 hours, or 92 120 hours over 50 years.
Back in 2016 this 39.2 hours a week spent working was equivalent to.
- 14% of total time over the course of a 76 year period (based on the average then projected life expectancy of 76 for people born in the year 2000 according to the ONS’s National Life Tables for the United Kingdom.)
- 23.3% of total time during the course of a 50 year working-life period
- 21% of total waking hours over a 76 year lifespan, assuming 8 hours of sleep a night.
- 35% of total waking hours over a 50 year working-life period assuming 8 hours of sleep a night.
So TLDR is that we’ve seen a reduction of working hours fro 35% of waking hours over 50 years to 29.4%
Back then I produced this infographic (updated for 2022 above!)
Signposting, Sources and Related Posts
(1) Office for National Statistics – Average actual weekly hours of work for full-time workers (seasonally adjusted)
(2) Google Search for ‘UK Life Expectancy‘ accessed 27/11/2022
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Experiments in alternative living – or 5 ways to avoid spending less than £250K on housing