South-Western College Publishing - Economics  
The Price of Work: Breakfast On The Run
Subject Scarcity, Choice, and Opportunity Cost
Topic Opportunity cost
Key Words Family time, work time, work, commutes
News Story

A growing number of working professionals are eating breakfast at the office, rather than at home. Others are eating during their commute. Reflecting these trends, a research firm, NPD Group, has found that since 1984 the number of breakfasts brought from home has doubled. Meantime, the number of people buying their breakfast from quick-service restaurants has doubled since 1995. Some employers have opened their cafeterias early in the morning so that employees can eat breakfast at work.

The reasons for the replacement of family time with work time include the fact that employees are working longer each week: since 1976, the proportion of employees working 49 hours or more has approximately doubled. As a result, work encroaches on to meal times. Second, breakfast time offers a quiet time in an otherwise hectic day for many workers to catch up on emails and talking to their secretaries. Third, commutes are growing longer, reducing the time people have for breakfast. More a tenth of morning commuters leave between 5 a.m. and 6 a.m.

(Updated August 1, 2000)

1. a) What is scarce in this news story?
  b) What choices have to be made as a result?
  c) What choice are many people making?
2. What is the opportunity cost of eating breakfast
  a) at home?
  b) on the way to work?
  c) at work?
3. Explain the choice made by many people (in 1c above) in terms of opportunity cost.
Source Stephanie Armour, "Breakfast eats time, so workers gobble at the office," USA Today, June 22, 2000.

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