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FSA WWII photo: Woman working in aircraft plant
04.18.03
Politics and Economy:
Working Overtime
More on This Story:
Working Hours Worldwide

According to the International Labour Organization, Americans now work more hours than workers in any other industrialized country. In just twenty years Americans have added an hour and a half a week — or over a week of extra work a year.

Perhaps it is not surprising that a 1995 survey by Penn & Schoen Associates, Inc. found that 75 percent of the private sector employees surveyed favored a proposal that would give workers the option of paid time off in lieu of overtime compensation. However, a RoperASW study published in the May 2003 issue MONEY magazine found the opposite — that Americans would rather have more money than more free time — 57 percent to 27 percent. And AMERICAN DEMOGRAPHICS reported on another RoperASW survey from 2001 that found that the top reason for Americans to consider changing jobs was money at 57 percent; more personal time clocked in at just 12 percent.

This disparity may be accounted for by the types of jobs that have seen the greatest increases in hours worked. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, though the average work week has increased by just over an hour and a half a week, the proportion of people who work much longer weeks (48 hours and more) has risen greatly. The occupations which saw the greatest increase in the percentage of workers averaging 48 hours per week or more were professionals and managers (who are most often not paid overtime though they are among the highest-paid workers) and sales and transportation workers (who are among the lowest-paid workers and earn more as they log more hours). The Bureau of Labor Statistics also notes that high unemployment numbers also stimulate salaried workers who are employed to put in more hours each week to safeguard their positions.

Another major group whose yearly working hours have increased is women. American women are much more likely to work than two decades ago, and to work full-time. Between 1976 and 1993 the number of hours worked by U.S. women increased by well over 2 million. A survey women members by the AFL-CIO found that many reported increased stress from longer hours at work. In "Working Mothers in a Double Bind," a study conducted for the Washington-based Economic Policy Institute, a union-supported think tank, researcher Elaine McCrate focused on a goal shared by many women: more control over the hours they work. Flexible schedules are growing, says McCrate, but only for women in upper-echelon jobs and for men.

The increasing need to balance work and family is the impetus behind some of the most important employment legislation of the past few years. Supporters of the Family and Medical Leave Act, and the Family Time Flexibility Act profiled in NOW's "Working Overtime" have suggested their legislation would greatly benefit working families. Whether or not they are the solution is yet to be determined. Read the arguments for and against the Family Time Flexibility Act and judge for yourself.

Working Hours Worldwide

Mexico: Average number of hours worked yearly, 2001:  1863.1
United States: Average number of hours worked yearly, 2001:  1979
Japan: Average number of hours worked yearly, 2001:  1842
Spain: Average number of hours worked yearly, 2001:  1815.8
Canada: Average number of hours worked yearly, 2001:  1779.5
United Kingdom: Average number of hours worked yearly, 2001:  1711
Italy: Average number of hours worked yearly, 2001:  1606
Sweden: Average number of hours worked yearly, 2001:  1602
France: Average number of hours worked yearly, 2001:  1531.7
Germany: Average number of hours worked yearly, 2001:  1467.1
Source: Labour Market Statistics, OECD; International Labour Organization, 2001

Sources: MONEY MAGAZINE, May 2003; European Commission, "The Life of Women and Men in Europe" A Statistical Portrait, Data 1980-2000; International Labour Organization; National Labor Relations Board; Bureau of Labor Statistics; OECD Statistics; Japanese Labor Statistics

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