The Evolution of Work-Life

Most people think of only one notion relating work and life: the work-life balance notion. You and I of course, are smarter, and we know that the relationship has been evolving over time. Here’s a picture of this evolution. I’ll leave it for you to figure out how to correlate this to generational attitudes and important technological enabling events.


(Feel free to use the graphic for your own purposes. Linkbacks appreciated).

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About Venkatesh Rao

Venkat is the founder and editor-in-chief of ribbonfarm. Follow him on Twitter


  1. When I worked for Kinko’s, they used to push a concept of the 3-legged balance: Work, Home and Play. They did quarterly workplace satisfaction surveys asking people, “Is your tripod balanced?”

    After a couple years of being told hundreds of variations of, “My tripod would be a lot more balanced if my job didn’t suck so much!” they stopped doing the surveys.

  2. Very nicely done! So, we have 2 years until the balance? Perfect!
    (*hanging on til then!*)

  3. Ah sorry, no. We’ll only get the CONCEPT right by 2010. Execution may take a while longer :P

  4. Interesting. Congratulations on a very nice site. In 2050, if not in 2020 itself, an alternate exists to your caricature. That’s the opposite of what you have drawn. You could have an “inverted Smiley” in which small pockets of life struggle in a mass of work.

    Ultimately, it’s the choices one makes that get you where you want to go:)

  5. @Prem Nao: When life is work and work is life, then what is work, and what is life? I suppose in the end it just becomes a half full/half empty debate.

  6. Very good illustration. But only thing is, at end, there will be lot of wrinkles in the face.

  7. Are you really suggesting that in 1900 there was nothing to life but work, or am i misreading the image?

  8. Kinda :) except for the leisured rich folks (as in the novels of Edith Wharton for example)!

    If you look at historical accounts of turn-of-the-century work conditions in the industrial environment of the labor barons in the US, you get the impression that it was practically all work, no play… rather like the Asian sweatshops that cause so much concern today.

    An approximation, shall we say?

  9. I wonder if the Victorian/Edwardian middle class isn’t a better comparison to the knowledge workers you’re looking at (although the railroad building/gold mining frenzies are very like a startup or a product ship deathmarch). For the first time you got leisure in the middle class, increased home ownership, even bank clerks might have a maid, commuting, the telegraph providing information overload anxiety, DIY… at least in England where the proceeds of empire created the middle class

  10. I think I’d actually stick to the knowledge worker-industrial worker comparison. Today’s knowledge worker class may have socially descended from the Victorian/Edwardian middle class as you say (or equivalents worldwide), but the work culture was inherited from the blue collar working classes sometime in the 40s I would say, when Taylorism seeped upwards from the factory floor to the office. Whyte’s organization man is very much a product of spreading manufacturing culture.

    But it’s an interesting thought — clearly high/middle/low cultures started to bleed into each other at some point to create the modern knowledge worker. Relative levels of influence would take a book to tease apart.

  11. Sulakshana Gopal says

    Nice! Love the concept.

    Seems easier to perceive it as the evolution of someone’s life and priorities.

  12. Great Job! It a neat path to show where we were and where we are heading, may be before 2050, faces will be like that, without wrinkles. Is there anyone out there who doubt? This is your answer :Soon we have commercial flights to the moon!