The questions of whether people living in modern societies work longer or shorter hours or have gained or lost free time, and the implications of such trends, have been at the centre of sociological, social political and social economic discussion since the 1930s. John Maynard Keynes, in his essay ‘Economic possibilities for our grandchildren’, contemplated the future of humanity after the anticipated resolution of the economic problem of ‘scarcity’ and observed:

For the first time since his creation, man will be faced with his real, his permanent problem – how to use his freedom from pressing economic cares, how to occupy his leisure, that science and compound interest will have won for him.