Much of this misguided romanticism can be traced back to a single article, Richard Lee's 1966 paper on the !Kung, which said they spend only 12 to 19 hours a week gathering food and only 40 to 44 hours a week on all their chores. This led Marshall Sahlins to call hunter-gatherers the "original affluent society." You still Lee's paper cited all the time, but really it is badly out of date:
Anthropologists Henry Harpending and LuAnn Wandsnider wrote, “Lee’s studies of !Kung diet and caloric intake have generated a misleading belief among anthropologists and others that !Kung are well fed and under little or no nutritional stress.” They note that “1964 may have been an unusually productive year for bush food,” and compare it with work describing the severe effects of the 1973 environment, “…people were starving, and weight loss and widespread social disruption occurred.” In 1986, Nancy Howell wrote that “…the !Kung are very thin and complain often of hunger, at all times of the year.” In Hunter and Habitat in the Central Kalahari Desert, George B. Silberbauer states that, “Undoubtedly Bushmen do succumb in years of very serious drought,” and describes how 37 individuals of another San population, the G/wi, died of dehydration during the drought of 1939. And in a 1986 article entitled “Ethnographic Romanticism and the Idea of Human Nature,” Melvin Konner and; Marjorie Shostak summed it up well, stating that, “Data on morbidity and mortality, though not necessarily relevant to abundance, certainly made use of the term “affluent” seem inappropriate.The best numbers available suggest that life expectancy among the !Kung is about 36, which puts them around the average for pre-industrial societies. But they live in a desert with very low population density and little disease, and other hunter-gatherer societies have shorter lives: 27 among the Hiwi of Colombia and 21 among the Agta of the Philippine jungles. Some hunter-gatherers also have high rates of violence; over the course of the 20th century a man of the !Kung was much more likely to die from violence than a European, despite the World Wars. And, you know, they do so little work on their houses partly because they live in miserable huts that leak when it rains and provide little protection against dust storms.
I don't mean to say that civilization has been an unmitigated boon; obviously it has serious problems, from genocide to diabetes. But life among hunter-gatherers wasn't so great, either.