Although the length of the working week has been falling for the last 200 years, that trend is now in reverse to the point whereby women are working an hour more per week.
The finding is reported in a new study by the Resolution Foundation entitled “The Times They Aren’t A Changin’” which explores what has driven the long term fall in the average number of hours worked per week and why that fall has now stalled.
While noting that a general focus on rising productivity driving up pay and allowing people to trade in hours of work for more leisure time is important, the report stresses that these factors do not entirely account for falling working hours.
Rather than focusing on individual workers, therefore, it argues instead that it is necessary to focus on the households in which people live.
In particular, it identifies rising female unemployment over the last 40 years as a major factor. This has reduced average weekly working hours (because women tend to work shorter hours than men), which in turn boosted family incomes and enabled (mainly male) primary earners to reduce their hours.
However, as a result of the financial crisis in 2008, there has been a 12-year stagnation in real pay with the result that the average working week has stopped getting shorter.
As a result, workers have looked for more hours of work to protect their family incomes. In fact, the average working week has actually got slightly longer by 40 minutes since 2009. The increase is particularly pronounced for women, whose working week has increased on average by about 65 minutes.
Looking at the average working week in Britain today, the report shows it is completely different to previous eras in a number of areas. It finds that:
- The longest hours are now worked by the highest earners and most qualified.
- Women’s working week peaks in their mid-20s at 30.4 hours before falling and then recovering slightly to 28.9 hours in their late 40s. In contrast, men’s hours peak in their mid-30s at 39 hours and stay at around that level until their 50s.
- Workers in London work the longest hours of any region, probably because of its younger, higher-educated workforce and low rate of part-time work.
Emma Game, of Thompsons Solicitors, commented: "Working time is a topic of debate at the moment with UK workers generally putting in more hours than workers in other European countries. A culture of long working hours is not one to be proud of and the fact that the working week has stopped getting shorter makes for disappointing reading. The TUC have historically called for a four day working week and this should be encouraged."
To read the report in full, go to: https://www.resolutionfoundation.org/app/uploads/2020/01/The-times-they-arent-a-changin.pdf