A rat race is an endless, self-defeating, or pointless pursuit. The phrase equates humans to rats attempting to earn a reward such as cheese, to no avail. It may also refer to a competitive struggle to get ahead financially or routinely.
The term is commonly associated with an exhausting, repetitive lifestyle that leaves no time for relaxation or enjoyment.
In an analogy to the modern city, many may see citizens, as rats in a single maze, expend a lot of effort running around, ultimately achieving nothing meaningful either collectively or individually. This is often used in reference to work, particularly excessive or competitive work; in general terms, if one works too much, one is "in the rat race". A key aspect of the rat race is being inflicted on the individual by uncontrollable outside forces such as researchers in the case of literal rats in a laboratory maze, or the inherent logic, pressures and incentives of contemporary businesses and society (e.g. productivity, acceleration, status). This terminology contains implications that many people see work as a seemingly endless pursuit with little reward or purpose (cyclical commute between home and work, akin to a rat running in circles or in a hamster wheel).
"Escaping the rat race" can have a number of different meanings:
- Movement from work or geographical location into (typically) a more rural area
- Retirement, quitting or ceasing work
- Moving from a job of high strenuosity to one of lesser strenuosity
- Changing to a different job altogether
- Working from home
- Becoming financially independent from an employer
- Living in harmony with nature
- Developing an inner attitude of detachment from materialistic pursuits
- Alienation from the norms of society
- "Slave to the Wage" by English alternative rock band Placebo is a song that describes the classical Rat Race, on the 2000 album Black Market Music.
- "Escape (Free Yo Mind From This Rat Race)" was released as the b-side of "Glam Slam", the second single from Prince's album Lovesexy and was later included on The B-Sides compilation.