NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Are Americans Working Longer Hours?

October 20, 1999

The idea got started in 1992 when Harvard University economist Juliet Schor published "The Overworked American." She argued that average workers were working longer hours and leisure was a declining commodity. The only problem is that the data don't support her argument.

Official figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics do not show any significant change in hours worked since 1940. Schor adjusted the official data, but neglected to explain what these adjustments were or how they were made. The BLS was unable to replicate her results and reviews of Schor's work in professional academic journals raised serious questions about her methodology, results and conclusions.

Furthermore, the latest "Report on the American Workforce," just published by the Department of Labor, concludes that although some classes of workers are working longer, others are working less. On average there has been little change.

Another avenue of research is to look at consumer expenditures on recreation.

  • Economist Dora Costa has looked carefully at the data and found outlays for recreation rising from 1.9 percent of family budgets 100 years ago to 5.6 percent in 1991.
  • The Employment Policy Foundation notes that between 1970 and 1994 the number of recreational golfers rose from 11.2 million to 24.3 million; Americans taking cruises increased from 500,000 to 4.4 million; recreational boats grew from 8.8 million to 16.6 million; and attendance at symphonies and operas climbed to 50.7 million from 17.3 million.

Finally, surveys show that most workers are satisfied with their work hours and many would actually prefer more.


Browse more articles on Economic Issues