The weary do rest

by Russ Roberts on July 7, 2005

in Work

Charles McGrath in this article (rr), "No Rest for the Weary" in the NY Times Sunday Magazine, discusses how people have to work longer hours under pressure from globalization.  After talking about how much the United States envy the French for their legendary ability to relax, he says further on:

Working hours in America — the nation in the world with by far the
most efficient human engines — have risen steadily over the last three

Unfortunately for the author, this statement is simply not true, at least not generally.  Here are the numbers (from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, reported in the Economic Report of the President) for average hours worked per week for private production and non-supervisory workers in the United States:

1970   37.0
1975   36.0
1980   35.2
1985   34.9
1990   34.3
1995   34.3
2000   34.3
2003   33.7

Now it could be the case that for some groups, such as professionals, supervisors, self-employed, hours of work have risen.  And perhaps some surveys have been taken of these groups show a rise in hours worked.  But my guess is that even for this group, lifetime hours worked have been falling for two reasons, earlier retirement and less time really working on the job.  The latter point is that even when we’re "working" that is, sitting at our desk, we take leisure, making airline reservations for our vacation, bidding on eBay.  (Hat tip to my colleague Larry Iannacone for this last point).

This inconvenient fact of falling rather than rising hours of work makes the logic in the Times article a bit difficult to sustain.  I have asked the author for the source for the claim that people are working more hours and he hopes to send it to me.


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