Who really works harder: the modern office worker or the serf?

Who really works harder: the modern office worker or the serf?

The work of present-day clerks is often devalued: they sit from 9 to 6, just pressing the keys on the keyboard, and shifting papers… It is believed that our generation does not work as hard as the previous one (since the clerks and office plankton do not work physically, as our ancestors did, who worked in factories and fields for 12-14 hours a day)…

So who is “plowing” more: us today or our not quite free ancestors? Let us compare and analyze.

Sleep and rise

If the modern office clerk is able to continuously sleep for eight hours at a time, the sleep of the peasant does not assume such a redundancy. Although peasants went to bed early (they were guided by the daylight hours – if you could not see anything, work was over, and welcome to a cozy bench), sleep was “chopped”.

There were no clocks in most peasant huts until the nineteenth century, so it was known that roosters were used for orientation. It was usually the mother and her helpers who got up with the latter singing at about two in the morning: at that time the dough had to be put on the bread, so that by four or five in the morning, when the main rise was scheduled, it had had time to rise and was suitable for baking.

The modern clerk has no need to interrupt his sleep in this way-unless, of course, he is lucky enough to have a boss. The “lucky” owners of a flighty autocrat with a habit of calling in the middle of the night may well feel like serfs in terms of sleep.

Workday and Wages

There is an opinion that the peasant, who had no personal freedom, worked, as in the famous song, from dawn to dawn and from darkness to darkness, but historical studies refute this myth for the most part. In summer, during the so-called “high season” (as it would be called by modern office workers) the serfs had to work harder, of course, but even here they did not do without breaks.

Whereas in the office one could usually count on a maximum one-hour lunch break, the peasant’s routine involved a slightly more frequent rest:

  • at 10 in the morning;
  • about 1 o’clock in the afternoon;
  • and at 4 o’clock in the afternoon.

Who really works harder: the modern office worker or the serf?

But it is more complicated with wages: the peasant, on the one hand, did not have them in the usual sense of the word. On the other hand, there was a sort of income tax, which was in kind: as you know, the landlord had to pay from a quarter, a third or even half of the harvest from the land.


And here the clerks are likely to envy the peasants: according to various calculations, there were about a hundred feast days in one year – a little more than a quarter. These holidays were ecclesiastical, and the vast majority of peasants were exempt from work on them.

However, even in them (excluding the very strict ones, in which it was considered a sin to work), the peasant often did not rest, but went to trade: fishing, beekeeping (collecting honey from wild bees), hunting. It was a kind of modern hackwork on the side.

We should not forget about the cold periods, when you could forget about the hard work in the field. During these periods the landlord could find no work for a serf, which meant that he was actually left to his own devices.

For clerks there were no such big “vacations”: even taking a leave of absence for, say, three months was problematic: not even to mention living expenses, during this period one could become redundant to one’s employer and later find a new job.

Who really works harder: the modern office worker or the serf?

Our verdict

Serf peasants (as well as slaves), given the mainly physical nature of their work, still had a harder time than modern office workers. However, the latter, unlike their distant ancestors, have to work almost year-round: there are few “free” seasons when there is no or very little work.

But although the peasants were for the most part provided with work (whereas we have to look for it), they lacked, perhaps, the main thing, without which the life of modern man would hardly make much sense:

The serfs had no personal freedom and could not manage their time as they wished.

Unfortunately, despite the abolition of slavery and serfdom in most countries of the world, this problem persists to this day. There are still millions of people who are not free to choose their occupation and employment.

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