Gregg Easterbrook points out in his book, The Progress Paradox, that in 1900 about 20% of the population was engaged in white collar work while 42% were engaged in "primary labor" such as mining, forestry, fishing, and farming. Most of the rest were engaged in factory work.
Today, almost 60% of Americans are engaged in white collar work. The release of the majority of Americans from physical toil is rarely noticed by most Americans.
While this phenomenon can be seen as a great boon, it also probably has a lot to do with the obesity epidemic in the U.S. and the rise of the "fitness" and "health club" business.
When I was a kid working on my grandfather's and a neighbor's farm, I had all the exercise I ever needed, and in fact every summer lost 15 pounds, and became much more muscular while getting paid for it. Of course, I was also exhausted at night and at the beginning of the summer ached all over from muscle strain for a couple of weeks.
I learned how to work hard, though, 9 hours per day from 8:00 AM to 6:00 PM and some nights during haying season and good weather to 9:30 PM. My boss, Stan Progrozewski had been up since 5:00 AM and milked 45 cows before we started at 8:00 AM, and milked them again after I quit at 6:00 PM.
Interestingly, being a psychotherapist, administrator, and teacher most of my adult life, I am 100 lbs. overweight, and I often wonder whether I am any happier? I love my work, but I miss the physical work as well. I certainly resent the physical exercise of the health club because I remember when my physical toil resulted in work accomplished while walking on the treadmill or lifting weights reminds me of hamsters running on a treadmill.
While some would say that life is much easier for people today who engage in white collar work instead of physical toil, I wonder if it really is better?