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Stressful leisure

A Gallup poll last year found that 44 percent of Americans consider themselves to be workaholics

It has become axiomatic that the United States is, in the words of CIO magazine, "a nation of stressed-out workaholics." A Gallup poll last year found that 44 percent of Americans consider themselves to be workaholics. Advertisers have cashed in on the idea, with commercials for one theme park featuring fictional undertakers who thank Americans for working themselves into early graves. The concept of the "overworked American" has long been a staple of political and cultural discussion in Western Europe also.

But what if it's not actually true? A study this spring from the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston and the University of Chicago shows that the conventional wisdom about Americans and work is not only wrong, it is spectacularly wrong. Most Americans simply do not work the long, grueling hours attributed to them by popular lore.

The study, conducted by economists Mark Aguiar and Erik Hurst, found that leisure time increased significantly for both American men and American women between 1965 and 2003. For men, an additional 6-8 hours per week of leisure time was the result of fewer hours spent at work outside the home. For women, greater entry into the workforce was offset by fewer hours worked in the home, yielding 4-8 extra hours of leisure time per week. "This increase in leisure," Messrs. Aguiar and Hurst write, "corresponds to roughly an additional 5 to 10 weeks of vacation per year, assuming a 40 hour work week."

Specifically, the study found that American men spent 114.4 hours per week not working on the job or at home (the authors' broadest measurement of leisure) in 2003, up from 106.8 hours in 1965. American women spent 119.5 hours not working on the job or at home, a number that rose steadily from 113.1 in 1965. (Different definitions of "leisure" produced different results, but in each case leisure increased between 1965 and 2003.)

Go back further than 1965, and the difference in leisure time is even more startling. Researchers Jesse Ausubel and Arnulf Grubler, in a study for Rockefeller University, report that a typical American worker in 1870 spent almost 3,000 hours per year engaged in paid labor. His counterpart in 1987 spent about 1,600 hours per year working for money.

So are Americans, with more free time than ever, simply deluding themselves? Are high stress levels all in our minds? Maybe not. Social commentator Gregg Easterbrook says that many people may feel time-stressed because they heavily schedule their free time with trips and other potentially hectic activities-stressful events that past generations did not emphasize as much.

He also cites studies showing that Americans sleep fewer hours than they did in past generations, with television and the internet keeping people awake longer. Such activities may be entertaining, but they translate into longer days and less of the natural relief from stress that sleep provides. "We're shifting to a 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week society, and as a result we're increasingly not sleeping like we used to," Najib T. Ayas of the University of British Columbia told The Washington Post.

So the United States may indeed have a stress problem; for most Americans, though, it's not the result of working too much.

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Chain reaction

The war on drugs took a new course this month drugstore chains moved popular over-the-counter cold medications behind their pharmacy counters

The war on drugs took a new course this month as Target, Wal-Mart, Walgreens, and a number of other national drugstore chains announced plans to move many of their most popular over-the-counter cold medications behind their pharmacy counters.

That's because pseudoephedrine, the main ingredient in medications like Sudafed, Nyquil, and Sinutab, can also be used to create methamphetamine, an illegal drug whose popularity and use has surged in recent years.

A recent study by Quest Diagnostics found that positive tests for amphetamines among job applicants and workers rose six percent last year. Although that's down from double-digit increases in 2001 and 2002, it's still a much higher rate of growth than for other drugs.

It's a fact that hasn't escaped the attention of state lawmakers, who have implemented inconsistent laws regarding the sale of pseudoephedrine products, a troublesome trend for companies that run pharmacies in different states. That's why many of the larger chains have enacted their own policies.

It's also the reason why the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, which represents more than 36,000 pharmacies, has reversed its position on proposed federal legislation that would require pseudoephedrine to be sold by a pharmacist and would call for purchases to be tracked on a customer-by-customer basis to assist law enforcement efforts.

Hybrid hike

As gas prices remain high, the hybrid car market is soaring, too.

Automotive analyst R.L. Polk & Co. reports that new hybrid vehicle registrations jumped 81 percent last year to 83,153. Nearly one-third of the new cars, which combine a traditional internal combustion engine with a rechargeable battery and an electric motor, were sold in California.

Of course, hybrid registrations still represent a drop in the bucket of the 17 million new vehicles sold nationwide in 2004. But considering that just 7,781 hybrid vehicles were sold in the United States four years ago, it's a trend automakers can't ignore. Major automakers are expected to introduce more than a dozen new hybrid vehicles in the next three years.

Last year, the Toyota Prius dominated the U.S. hybrid market with more than 53,000 new Prius cars registered. Through the first three months of this year, Toyota says that it is on track to double its Prius sales in 2005.

New hybrid versions to be released this year include the Lexus RX400h, Mercury Mariner and Toyota Highlander SUVs. Hybrid vehicles typically cost $3,000 to $4,000 more than traditional models.

Balance Sheet

· What can Brown do for you? If you own shares in Overnite Corp., package-delivery company UPS just pushed your stock price up 46 percent with its proposed deal to acquire the Virginia-based trucking firm. UPS will pay $1.25 billion, or $43.25 per share to expand its ground transportation capabilities.

· Can you put a value on the economic worth of a stay-at-home mom? Salary.com's informal survey determined that the nation's 5.4 million stay-at-home moms would earn an average of $131,471 annually if they received a paycheck for each of their job titles. Among the titles were day-care center teacher, van driver, housekeeper, cook, chief executive officer, nurse, and general maintenance worker.

· The organic foods market soared from $3.57 billion nationwide in 1997 to $10.38 billion in 2003, according to the Organic Trade Association. The group predicts sales will reach $14.5 billion by the end of 2005 as Americans buy everything from radishes to beef grown without conventional pesticides and fertilizers, biotechnology, antibiotics, or growth hormones.

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Jetsons future

For robots and flying cars, the future is now

In the 1970s, it seemed that flying cars and robot housekeepers were the stuff of science fiction and fantasy. But apparently some people were watching The Jetsons cartoon for ideas instead of laughs.

Tokyo-based KMP Inc. says it is the first company to mass-produce humanoids, or human-shaped robots, for the home. Their 15-inch tall robot, called nuvo, is on sale in Japan for $5,450. With a digital camera enclosed, nuvo can take pictures on demand and transmit images through a videophone so that owners can see what is going on in their home.

And those "flying cars" just may turn out to be personal airplanes. The General Aviation Manufacturing Association reports the number of piston-engine, propeller planes has tripled in the past decade. Oregon-based airplane manufacturer Lancair Co. says it expects to double the number of planes it sells this year.

"It used to be that you had to do a geometry exercise to navigate a plane," said Lance Neibauer, the founder of Lancair Co. Today's small planes, however, have a "glass cockpit," the system of computerized displays and controls that makes pilots' lives much easier.

Down on the farm

While diversification is a key consideration for individual investors, it is also an important concept for business owners-even farmers-to keep in mind.

In an era of carb-conscious consumers and a new focus on curbing obesity, the fast-food industry is in the middle of a dramatic transformation that has had rippling effects for many of its suppliers.

In Idaho, a decision by McDonald's to phase out its super-size value meals has exacerbated an already difficult situation for the state's potato growers. In recent years, overproduction has resulted in a surplus. The trifecta of lower prices, severe drought, and fewer French fries sold has caused many farmers to forgo planting this spring.

On the flip side, apple producers in Idaho, Oregon, and Washington are cashing in on McDonald's and other fast-food franchises' decision to add healthier fare to their menus.

Last June, McDonald's began offering apple slices with a caramel dipping sauce. Now the company is preparing to roll out a new salad, featuring apples, walnuts, and grapes. McDonald's officials say they expect to purchase about 54 million pounds of apples each year for the two menu items.

"Obviously, it's a big boon," said Dave Carlson, president of the Washington Apple Commission.

Balance Sheet

· To ensure Berkshire Hathaway's success after his death, 74-year-old investment wizard Warren Buffett added fellow billionaire Bill Gates to the company's board. Messrs. Gates and Buffett, the world's two richest people, have been friends since 1991.

· Circulation fell 1.9 percent at major U.S. newspapers in the six-month period ending in March, marking one of the worst declines in recent years. Among the major papers with significant declines in circulation were the Chicago Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle, and Los Angeles Times.

· Qwest dropped out of its bidding war with Verizon for MCI Inc. after MCI rejected a higher-priced bid from Qwest for the fourth time. Verizon's final offer was $8.5 billion or $26 per share. Qwest had offered $30 a share in cash and stock.

· Texas Pacific Group and Warburg Pincus plan to purchase the Neiman Marcus Group Inc., which includes a chain of 37 luxury department stores, for about $5 billion. In addition to its stores, Neiman Marcus is well-known for its annual Christmas catalog, which included among its offerings last year a $10 million zeppelin, a $1.7 million winged submarine, and jeweled Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head figurines at $8,000 apiece.

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