The Need for a Reduced Workweek in the United States
PRECARIOUS WORK, WOMEN, AND THE NEW ECONOMY: THE CHALLENGE TO LEGAL NORMS, Judith Fudge and Rosemary Owen, eds., Hart Publishing, 2006
21 Pages Posted: 13 Nov 2004 Last revised: 3 Nov 2007
This paper argues that a reduced workweek offers a way to alleviate work-family conflict without exacerbating the sex-based division of labor in paid work and unpaid family work. We distinguish our position from two other approaches: (1) one that compensates unpaid family work directly (through such policies as traditional welfare provision, or alimony), policies we argue can discourage women from labor force attachment and contribute to sex-stereotyping and sex-segregated employment; and (2) an approach that spurs employers to accommodate workers' family responsibilities (through such policies as part-time work for parents), policies workers often avoid out of a well founded fear that they will be penalized unless all workers take advantage of them.
Although there is room for supplemental policies such as paid leave, we argue that it is only by reducing the long hours required for many higher-paying full-time jobs - and increasing the hours associated with many lower-paying non-standard jobs - that post-industrial societies can actually create opportunities for both men and women to participate fully in paid employment and parenting. Requiring employers to pay premium wages or compensatory time, plus proportionally additional benefits, to people who work more than 30 to 35 hours a week could help eliminate current legal incentives for employers to overwork full-time employees, who are disproportionately male. Similarly, requiring employers to pay equal wages and proportional benefits to people who work less than 30 to 35 hours a week could eliminate the incentive for employers to create the part-time and contingent jobs in which women are disproportionately concentrated. Other policies, such as an expanded earned-income tax credit, could help men and women converge toward a more moderate workweek norm.
Drawing on experience in Europe and the United States, we evaluate the likely effectiveness of various regulatory approaches. Although the matter is complex, the evidence suggests that it is possible to design policy approaches that could help achieve a more moderate workweek in the U.S. We conclude that, even though doing so would alleviate gender inequalities around paid work and unpaid family work, the current political and economic climate is not conducive to achieving such change. We call upon scholars, policymakers, and activists to study and press this issue further.
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