[lbo-talk] Workers Are on the Job More Hours over the Course of the Year

Doug Henwood dhenwood at panix.com
Mon May 14 12:23:27 PDT 2007

On May 14, 2007, at 2:28 PM, Yoshie Furuhashi wrote:

> Juliet Schor's The Overworked American: The Unexpected Decline of
> Leisure (Basic Books) was published in 1992, so when the book came
> out, it was definitely in keeping with the trend, whether you look at
> the BLS or the OECD. The trends since then, it seems to me, are
> results of recession and weak recovery

Weak recovery? The late 1990s? That was the strongest labor market in 30 years. The employment/pop ratio still hasn't returned to its 2000 high.

And Schor's data hasn't gone unchallenged. Barry Bluestone & Steven Rose write <http://www.theprospect.com/print/V8/31/bluestone-b.html>:

> A more accurate measure of hours worked comes from special studies
> that target the work time issue by asking respondents to keep a 24-
> hour time diary of everything they do over a one- to two-day
> period. Such time diary surveys were first carried out by the
> University of Michigan Survey Research Center in 1965 and 1975, and
> then again by the University of Maryland in 1985. The accuracy of
> work time estimates derived from this survey approach is presumably
> superior to CPS measures for two reasons. First, the exercise's
> sole purpose is studying the use of time; second, respondents do
> not have to plum their memories for what they did a week ago or try
> to calculate instantly how many weeks they worked all of last year.
> Sure enough, a comparison of CPS-estimated hours of work and diary
> entries suggests that people overestimate how much they work—and
> that the overestimates get bigger the more hours they put in.
> According to John Robinson of the University of Maryland and Ann
> Bostrom of Georgia Tech University, who studied the two sets of
> surveys, among those estimating 20 to 44 weekly hours, the CPS-type
> estimates were only slightly higher than the diary entries. But
> among workers claiming to "usually" work more than 55 hours per
> week, the gap was 10 hours or more per week. Robinson and Bostrom
> concluded that "the diary data suggest that only rare individuals
> put in more than a 55- to 60-hour workweek, with those estimating
> 60 or more hours on the job averaging closer to 53-hour weeks."
> Moreover, using the diary studies for 1965, 1975, and 1985,
> Robinson and Bostrom found a systematic increase in the size of the
> estimate gap over time. The gap rose from just one hour in 1965 to
> four hours in 1975 to six hours in 1985, which is more than enough
> to account for the alleged "overwork" that Schor and Mishel and
> Bernstein claim to have found.
> When Robinson and Bostrom analyzed diaries for 1965, 1975, and 1985
> more carefully, they found only small changes in hours worked among
> those who normally work 20 hours or more per week. Between 1965 and
> 1985, men's average hours declined by 0.7 hours per week from 47.1
> to 46.4 hours, while working women's hours increased by the same
> amount (0.7) from 39.9 to 40.6 hours. If these numbers are
> believed, then the source of increased hours worked that Schor
> observed must be new entrants to the labor force—again, many of
> them women—and part-timers who have increased their part-time
> hours. Of course, whether this should be counted as "overwork" or
> not is a matter of deeply divided opinion.

They also review PSID data and find a modest uptrend in hours worked - all because of increased (paid) work effort by women, because male hours declined slightly. Their data run only through the late 1980s, however. From looking at employment/pop ratios since then, the growth of female labor force participation slowed dramatically in the 1990s, and is down slightly in the 2000s.

As I recall, this thread's prehistory was that James H and I disagreed on the increased work effort measured at the household level (i.e., more women working for pay). I still think that's true. But the more recent threadlet was about absolute levels of leisure, and at 4-5 hours a day, that's a long way from the sweatshop. I wonder if the time crunch is a more socially acceptable way of saying alienation, depression, and anxiety?


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