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January 24, 2007

Calling Bullshit

The British Social Attitudes Survey is out today, as The Guardian reports:

Although working hours have fallen slightly for men, an increase in hours worked by women means that, overall, the hours being worked in two-earner households have risen.

Nothing very surprising about that, it's been going on for at least half a century. At least, a part of it has. Here's the press release for the report and here's how you can get the actual full thing. Now I'm not going to pay £45 to get a copy of that report but if anyone has one, I'd love to see it.

For here's why I'm calling that point made, in both The Guardian and the press release, bullshit.

It is true that paid working hours for men have been falling: they have been for a long time. It is also true that paid working hours for women have been rising: they have been for a long time.

This is not, however, the same as saying that working hours in two-earner families have been rising. For there is a large amount of unpaid work that is done to keep a family or a household on the road. As you might remember, many feminist organizations have complained about this fact.

At the same time that paid working hours for men have been falling, paid for women rising, unpaid working hours for both sexes have been falling faster. Unless something very surprising in this latest survey has happened, we would expect that trend to continue.

The bullshit, of course, is the elision between paid and unpaid work. We're supposed to conclude that we're all getting much less leisure because we're all working so hard. But the recent historical trend has been that we all get more leisure time.

If anyone actually has the report I'd love to have my suspicion confirmed (and will of course retract if I'm shown to be wrong).

Until then I'll just conclude that this is people lying to us for political reasons. Quelle Surprise.

Update: extremely kindly the PR people for this paper sent me the relevant chapter (no, sorry, I can't post it). The only mention of the above in it is:

Moreover, if women are no longer available to carry out (unpaid) domestic work and caring, then this is likely to put pressure on family time for men, as well as women.

So, no, they don't consider it, they are ignorant of the research in the field, that leisure hours are increasing because the hours of unpaid work in the home are falling and yes, this report is bullshit.



January 24, 2007 in Idiotarians | Permalink


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I'd have to say that the BSA survey is probably an inferior method of estimating working hourse than the Labour Force Survey or the Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings.

BSA - measures attitudes and perceptions - i.e. Attitudes, not factual data that can be used to derive averages, distributions, etc.

LFS & ASHE measure stated working hours.

Plus BSA- are the interviews of households or individuals - are they making assumptions about households?

LFS interviews people and asks them about other members of the household - so far more accurate.

Wot does the LFS tell us? total average weekly working hrs at 32.1 hrs in Q3 1992; down from 33.0 hrs in Q3 1992.

For FT workers - 37.2 hrs in Q3 2006; 38.1 hrs Q3 1992

Male all - 36.6 Q3 2006; 38.7 Q3 1992
Male FT - 38.9 Q3 2006; 40.0 Q3 1992
Fem all - 26.5 Q3 2006; 26.1 Q3 1992
Fem FT - 34.0 Q3 2006; 34.0 Q3 1992

The fall in make hrs is slight, but apparent; the rise in female hours is apparent - because they are moving more into FT employment (from PT empt) it seems, rather than working longer hrs in FT employment.

Stats would also be available from LFS for households, but I can't be arsed getting hold of them just now.

See the lab mks stats here (you will need to lower macro security settings to access historical data): http://www.statistics.gov.uk/elmr/01_07/data_page.asp

Posted by: Glenn Athey | Jan 24, 2007 1:26:03 PM

Tim - your right that this has going on for decades but wrong about all your conclusions. Juliet Schor did some study of this in America a few years back and the same applies here. See http://www.amazon.com/Overworked-American-Unexpected-Decline-Leisure/dp/046505434X

It's a little hard to fit into the whole worldview of 'choice' and lifestyle luxury isn't it?

Tim adds:


Posted by: Gus Abraham | Jan 24, 2007 2:04:28 PM