Working Time and Workers' Preferences in Industrialized Countries: Finding the Balance

Working Time and Workers' Preferences in Industrialized Countries: Finding the Balance

Working Time and Workers' Preferences in Industrialized Countries: Finding the Balance

Working Time and Workers' Preferences in Industrialized Countries: Finding the Balance

Synopsis

As we enter the 21st century, a common goal has emerged - the removal or liberalization of restrictions on unsocial hours and on the variation of working hours. This work draws together an international team of contributors to examine the process.

Excerpt

From an American perspective, until very recently working time never seemed to be more than an afterthought in discussions of labour issues and labour market policies. Even now, with changes to us overtime regulations in the news, the focus is not on the number of hours that people work, but rather how much they will be paid for working those hours. Indeed, to the extent that we in the usa considered working time in policy development at all, it was as one potential impact of successful policies to increase employment and earnings. For example, if hours or weeks worked in paid employment increased for a particular group of workers, from an American perspective, that was nearly always regarded as an unalloyed good - a result to be applauded and even replicated if possible. the idea that more working time could be a problem was, well, something that a handful of academics (most notably, Juliet Schor, author of The Overworked American (1992) and other volumes) were concerned about, but it was certainly not considered to be an important matter for public policy.

My immersion in the voluminous literature on working time in Euro-pean Union (EU) member states has not only opened my eyes to 'classic' concerns about working time, such as excessive hours of work and its effects on health and safety, but also led me to question other aspects of working time as well. Why, for example, were so many individuals reporting that they felt a 'time squeeze' when data on hours of work seemed to indicate few, if any, changes in average weekly hours of work? While the full answer is a complex one and is treated in more detail elsewhere (see, for example, Jacobs and Gerson 2000), the basic answer is quite simple: women's labour force participation is much higher than it was in most industrialized countries even 20 years ago, and that means that each family unit or 'household' is working more hours, even if the working hours of individuals had remained unchanged.

In fact, however, the working hours of individuals weren't just standing still, as data on average hours of work seemed to indicate. Some workers were working much longer hours, while others were working fewer hours as part-time work expanded - even more so in many eu member states,

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