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Same Hours, Less Time
trying to solve a puzzle," said Dr. Jerry Jacobs, professor of
sociology. ³Why does everybody feel so busy while the data seem to say
that we're not?"
It's a timely question, and in a paper titled ³Who are
the Overworked Americans?" Jacobs and co-author Kathleen Gerson (a
sociologist at New York University), have provided some answers. The paper
was published in the December 1998 Review of Social Economy.
short answer, he argues, is that families are far more likely to have
two breadwinners today (59.5 percent) than they were 30 years ago (35.9
percent). And while neither partner may be working significantly more
hours than their male or female counterparts did then, the combined workloads
of dual-career families are some 83 hours a week, compared to 45 hours
by a typical couple in 1970. Yet the attention required by their families
has stayed the same.
³Put simply," Jacobs and Gerson write, ³women and
men alike feel squeezed because they are less likely to be able to rely
on someone at home devoted exclusively to family concerns, not because
the work week of individuals has expanded." And the structure of
work, they argue, ³has not changed sufficiently to accommodate the transitions
in workers' private lives." (For the record, American men are now
working an average of 42-43 hours a week for pay; women, 36-37 hours.)
While acknowledging that ³one size will not fit all,"
Jacobs suggests that the nation consider reducing the average work week
from 40 to 35 hours. After all, he notes, the 40-hour week ³was developed
in 1938 when the male-breadwinner family was overwhelmingly dominant in
American familes." (Male-breadwinner-only families declined from
51.4 percent in 1970 to 25.9 percent in 1997.) Now, he says, ³the demographics
in the labor market are so different that it's time to reconsider recalibrating
Although only 6.4 percent of women and 15.8 percent
of men expressed a desire to work more than 50 hours a week, in reality,
10.8 percent of the women and 25.2 percent of the men work 50 or more
hours. Most of those who do are in the managerial and professional sphere
-- people who tend to dominate the national discourse about the contours
of working time.
In fact, said Jacobs, it was such books as Juliet Schor's
1991 The Overworked American that got him thinking about the issue.
While that book ³got an enormous amount of attention" and spent some
time on The New York Times bestseller list, economists were ³very
critical" of her statistics. So how did she strike such a deep chord
among the working public? Because, says Jacobs, ³readers of New York
Times bestsellers are more educated, and are most likely to be working
50 hours or more, and are somewhat more likely to be in dual-earner couples
working a combined 83 hours a week."
For Jacobs, who has two small children and a busy professional
life himself, this research has been ³much more personal" than most
of his projects. And as he finds himself trying to get more accomplished
in the time he does have, he finds himself ruminating on another conundrum:
that if he could only force himself to be a little more efficient, he
could ³finally get to work on the paper that says we should all work less."
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Gazette Last modified 2/17/99