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February 07, 2006

Working Time

Richard Morrison in The Times:

Even so, it’s a depressing thought that the average Briton will spend 110,000 hours of his or her life in the workplace. And, of course, 18,000 strap-hanging, soul-sapping hours trying to get there and back. I’ll leave it to psychologists to deduce whether that is a more depressing thought for my kids, viewing this prospect from the starting-blocks, than for me, casting a rueful look back as I puff towards the last lap. I’ll leave it to politicians to argue whether the 35-hour week in other European countries improves life by giving people more leisure time or degrades it by making everyone broke.

This is the current subject that is fascinating me. Do we actually have the longest working hours in Europe? As a couple of papers discussed here show, when we add together paid and unpaid working hours it seems not to be true that Americans work longer hours than, say, Germans. Rather the reverse.

I’ve been trying to look around and see if there are more such papers. Time Use Surveys are the trick, where people record their activities over a week say. Unfortunately, cross-country comparisons are tough as the different surveys have different parameters. For example, the Finnish one is for 10-65 years while the UK one is 18-65. There’s supposed to be a UN jobbie setting standards to make comparisons easier but I can’t see that there have been any results as yet.

So, to any of my economically trained readers (most especially those with access to the journals and papers databases). Has anyone actually done the work? Ideally, I’d like to see a comparison of leisure time across, say, the EU 15 (split out into individual countries) and the US. The reason for the concentration on leisure time is because we want to add together paid work in the economy and unpaid work in the home. Leisure is obviously what’s left over.

As a basic theme we know that womens’ paid working hours have been rising over the decades, mens’ falling and unpaid for both falling faster than womens’ rising. Leading to more leisure for both men and women. This seems to hold true in all ofthe different time use surveys.

But which system is providing the most leisure? For that we need cross country comparisons.

So, any guidance? Pointers?

February 7, 2006 in Business | Permalink


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The full paper, or a similar one, is here if you want to link to it


I think two odd things in their comparision of non-market working hours. First, they include 'eating', which takes longer in Germany than in the US (in fact explain nearly two-thirds of the difference in eating, getting and producing food differences (table 5)). Is eating really working? Do lunch hours count in hours worked statistics?

Second, I can't get the numbers to add up. They say (table 5) US adults spend 21 hours on no-market stuff and Germans 27 hours. This is split for the US into 19 hours on food and related, 4.1 hours on children, and the rest on cleaning/household repairs. I make this 23.1 hours before the cleaning, not 21 hours. For Germans it is 21.7 hours on food, 4.8 hours on children, and presumably 0.5 hours on cleaning/repairs. Maybe I've read the table wrong.

Tim adds: I link that paper in the TCS piece. I’m interested in seeing if there are others alongthe same lines.

Posted by: Matthew | Feb 7, 2006 10:42:22 AM

the really strange thing in these papers is that they count "child care" as domestic work, rather than leisure. I have two problems with this:

a) the psychological model here is of someone thinking "one of the reasons I work so hard is to have enough money that I don't need to see my kids"

b) since children go to bed at roughly the same time in Europe and America, and any time they are awake will most likely be coded as "child care", there's a distortion here; if you arrive home at 6pm in Germany and 7pm in America and bedtime is 8pm then the German will be counted as doing 2 hours domestic work and the American 1 hour of domestic work and 1 hour of market work between 6pm and 8pm, but it does not look to me as if they are equivalent.

(I also maintain that this comparison is fundamentally flawed, because while you are doing "domestic production" your time is your own and nobody can tell you what to do, but not while you are doing work. If the government forced you to do 1 hour's Cameronite "voluntary service" every day, but provided someone to hoover your house while you were doing it, would you consider that to be basically equivalent, or Fascism?)

Posted by: dsquared | Feb 8, 2006 7:28:41 AM

Thinking about it we've all seen American tourists lost, walking around in circles, in London. Far more efficient would be if they paid 'professional tourists' to do the sightseeing for them, thus freeing up more time for them to go to work.

Posted by: Matthew | Feb 8, 2006 10:43:16 AM

Try the International Labour Organisation:


The ILO toolkit includes international data on working hours

daresay Eurostat will have this too and possibly Source OECD

Posted by: angry economist | Feb 8, 2006 5:39:41 PM