The Shorter Workweek Controversy

January 1965
Industrial & Labor Relations Review;Jan65, Vol. 18 Issue 2, p238
Academic Journal
Over the years, the arguments for a shorter workweek have settled into a pattern with a few dominant features. A reduction in weekly hours of work is urged on grounds that (1) there is an historical trend to shorter hours, that (2) shorter hours would promote greater worker efficiency, that (3) purchasing power would be increased, and that (4) unemployment would be reduced by spreading the available work. Despite the fact that these propositions are interrelated, they can be separated analytically and considered in turn. While there has obviously been a very large reduction of working hours over the past hundred years, most of it took place in the first three decades of this century, and the role of unions and government in this trend was extremely modest, if not nonexistent. This suggests that the labor market is quite capable of translating productivity increases into more leisure, as well as income, if there is a desire for more leisure by the workers themselves. There is no evidence of a desire for a shorter workweek and considerable evidence to the contrary. The arguments for shorter hours on broader social grounds-efficiency and purchasing power-are similarly unable to bear scrutiny. Belief in greater efficiency at shorter hours seems to rest largely on misinterpretation of a single well-known study of pieceworkers. The purchasing power argument which assumes a direct relationship between wage rates and aggregate earnings ignores factor substitution, which would tend to aggravate any supposed deficiency of purchasing power in the hands of the workers.


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