Do Longer Hours Mean More Work?

I’m knee deep in my literature review now, finding significant evidence that North Americans in particular are working more hours. See below (Source: OECD).


But what does this really mean? Does it mean that people have the experience of longer hours? Does it mean their employers are recording them working longer hours? Does it mean they are necessarily less fulfilled at work?

Jacobs and Gerson (2004) ask the empirical question whether Americans are indeed working more in the past. They trace the methodological issues associated with this project, and summarize the findings of various other scholars. The short answer to the question is “Yes and no.” The long answer is that this seeming paradox can be explained by an increasing polarization between working hours, both paid and unpaid.

These divisions run along distinct gender and class lines. Highly educated white men, for example, work the longest paid hours. Highly educated white women work the least. Black women work more than black men. These findings suggest a distinct social pattern to work and leisure. Class lines seem to determine the amount of paid work a woman does, with higher-class women retreating back into unpaid work. These findings are not apparent in other studies because researchers often utilize the “average” hours worked — a crude measure that corresponds to no actual woman or man.

How many hours are agency workers working? It’s hard to actually know — no specific data set exists. But in my research I’m finding that at least some of them are working typically around 50 hours a week (that’s more than the average person).

And many of them say “You have to expect those hours in this industry.” But do they feel unfulfilled? Is their time compressed? More on these issues as I move forward.

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