We’ve all watched a lot of telly this past year. That’s nothing to be ashamed of. If it’s that or more Zoom, or even braving the weather in this shambles of a spring, I’m all for flicking on Netflix.
When the pandemic started, everyone news-binged to find out what was going on and started subscribing to streaming services galore. In April 2020, we averaged 6.5 hours viewing a day against five in 2019. As the pandemic dragged on, people stopped bothering with the news (unless Boris Johnson was announcing a new lockdown), but kept streaming box sets, partly because TV is really good. You don’t need a lockdown to make you watch Normal People or The Queen’s Gambit.
But will this cultural upgrading have economic effects? Maybe, is the takeaway from two recent studies. We’ve long known that the arrival of TV squeezed out other leisure activities, but a paper on the rollout of TV stations in America in the 1950s found that the small screen’s arrival reduced employment by a not insignificant two percentage points. How? High-quality, cheap TV made earlier retirement more appealing.
At the opposite end of the age spectrum, other research shows that huge improvements in video gaming are related to major falls in employment for young men (the hours worked by US men aged 21-30 has fallen 10% this century). Apparently, having something else decent to do makes work less appealing. Who knew?