Couch Potatoes: Exhaustion at the end of the workday.

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The American kitchen is fast becoming nothing more than a repository for take-out cartons. But it isn't because we've lost our taste for home cooking. What we've lost is the energy required to prepare a meal and clean up afterwards. Forty-one percent of American workers say they often or always come home from work exhausted, up from 36 percent in 1989, according to data from the 1998 General Social Survey conducted by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago. Nearly half (48 percent) are exhausted after work some of the time. A lucky 11 percent are hardly ever or never ready to collapse at the end of the workday.

Working women are more likely than their male colleagues to be tuckered out when they get home. Forty-four percent of women say they are always or often exhausted after work compared with 38 percent of men. In 1989, the percentages broken down by gender were almost even, but since then the share of women who are burned out after work rose 9 percentage points, while the increase among men was only 2 points.

And getting older isn't getting any easier. The share of people in their 40s who are always or often exhausted at workday's end rose from 32 percent in 1989 to 45 percent in 1998. The percentage of people in their 50s who need to hit the couch after work rose as well, from 34 percent in 1989 to 44 percent in 1999.

On-the-job stress accounts for some of this worker exhaustion. Nearly half of workers (46 percent) say their jobs are stressful at least some of the time, according to the 1998 General Social Survey. Two out of five always or often are stressed by work. Only 16 percent of working Americans hardly ever or never find their jobs stressful. Do workers want a simpler life, one with less stress and fewer demands? Not if it means a lower income. Only 9 percent would choose to work fewer hours if it meant a cut in pay. In fact, 30 percent would like to boost their earnings by working longer hours. More than half of workers (53 percent) would not trade time for money or money for time.

The rapid pace of modern life has created enormous demand for convenient and time-saving goods and services. But stressed and exhausted workers have raised the bar a notch because they have little patience left. If you don't believe it, just ask any airline employee.

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