A Brief History of Long Work Time and the Contemporary Sources of Overwork
Pennsylvania State University - Abington College
January 1, 2008
Journal of Business Ethics, pp. 217-227, January 2009
What are some of the key historical trends and patterns in hours of work per worker in US? What forces and counterforces determine the length of individuals' work hours - economic, social-psychological-cultural, organizational and institutional? How much of the trend in work hours may be attributable to workers' preferences, external incentives and employers' constraints? What motivates employees to desire to work longer work hours? Can work become overwork - risking harm to workers, families or economies - or workaholism, an unforced addiction to incessant work activity? The first part of this article traces the history of the length of working hours and its recent polarization. The second develops a multi-disciplinary model to identify the motivations behind more workers desiring longer hours. To the extent such preferences are adaptable, individuals' desired work hours will stem from the weighted contribution of its five sources: (1) current real wage rates; (2) forward-looking, potential wage trajectories;(3) relative status conferred upon individuals by hours of labor; (4) intrinsic rewards, process benefits or amenities acquired through work; (5) hours demanded by the employer, reflecting structural constraints. The latter term makes explicit that employers and their established conditions of work have indeed influenced the course of long run trends labor supply and in work time structures. The final section briefly suggests policies that might curb the persistence of long hours by addressing its economic and social sources.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 11
Keywords: Work hours, working time, overwork, labor supply, labor history
JEL Classification: J21, J23, J28, I12, N21Accepted Paper Series
Date posted: January 17, 2008 ; Last revised: March 3, 2009
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