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Productivity in manufacturing and the length of the working day: evidence from the 1880 census of manufactures

  • Atack, Jeremy
  • Bateman, Fred
  • Margo, Robert A.

We use data from the manuscript census of manufacturing to estimate the effects of the length of the working day on output and wages. We find that the elasticity of output with respect to daily hours was positive but less than one - that is, there were diminishing returns to increases in hours. Holding constant annual days of work, the average annual wage was positively related to daily hours but, again, the elasticity was less than one. At the modal value of daily hours - ten hours per day - it appears that, from the standpoint of employers, the marginal benefits of a shorter working day - a lower wage bill - were approximately offset by the marginal cost - lower output.

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Article provided by Elsevier in its journal Explorations in Economic History.

Volume (Year): 40 (2003)
Issue (Month): 2 (April)
Pages: 170-194

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Handle: RePEc:eee:exehis:v:40:y:2003:i:2:p:170-194
Contact details of provider: Web page: http://www.elsevier.com/locate/inca/622830

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  1. Ben S. Bernanke, 1985. "Employment, Hours, and Earnings in the Depression: An Analysis of EightManufacturing Industries," NBER Working Papers 1642, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Yoram Barzel, 1973. "The Determination of Daily Hours and Wages," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 87(2), pages 220-238.
  3. Costa, Dora L, 2000. "The Wage and the Length of the Work Day: From the 1890s to 1991," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 18(1), pages 156-81, January.
  4. Jeremy Atack & Fred Bateman, 1991. "Whom Did Protective Legislation Protect? Evidence From 1880," NBER Historical Working Papers 0033, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Landes, William M. & Solmon, Lewis C., 1972. "Compulsory Schooling Legislation: An Economic Analysis of Law and Social Change in the Nineteenth Century," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 32(01), pages 54-91, March.
  6. Atack, Jeremy & Bateman, Fred, 1992. "How Long Was the Workday in 1880?," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 52(01), pages 129-160, March.
  7. Jeremy Atack & Fred Bateman & Robert A. Margo, 2001. "Part-Year Operation in Nineteenth Century American Manufacturing: Evidence from the 1870 and 1880 Censuses," Vanderbilt University Department of Economics Working Papers 0106, Vanderbilt University Department of Economics, revised Mar 2001.
  8. Barry Eichengreen, 1987. "The Impact of Late Nineteenth-Century Unions on Labor Earnings and Hours: Iowa in 1894," ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 40(4), pages 501-515, July.
  9. Atack, Jeremy, 1977. "Returns to scale in antebellum United States manufacturing," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 14(4), pages 337-359, November.
  10. Lucas, Robert E, Jr, 1970. "Capacity, Overtime, and Empirical Production Functions," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 60(2), pages 23-27, May.
  11. Goldin, Claudia, 1988. "Maximum Hours Legislation and Female Employment: A Reassessment," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 96(1), pages 189-205, February.
  12. Goldin, Claudia & Sokoloff, Kenneth, 1982. "Women, Children, and Industrialization in the Early Republic: Evidence from the Manufacturing Censuses," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 42(04), pages 741-774, December.
  13. Whaples, Robert, 1990. "Winning the Eight-Hour Day, 1909–1919," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 50(02), pages 393-406, June.
  14. Moehling, Carolyn M., 1999. "State Child Labor Laws and the Decline of Child Labor," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 36(1), pages 72-106, January.
  15. Kenneth L. Sokoloff, 1984. "Was the Transition from the Artisanal Shop to the Factory Associated with Gains in Efficiency?: Evidence from the U.S. Manufacturing Censuses of 1820 and 1850," UCLA Economics Working Papers 300, UCLA Department of Economics.
  16. Jeremy Atack & Fred Bateman & Robert A. Margo, 2000. "Rising Wage Dispersion Across American Manufacturing Establishments, 1850-1880," NBER Working Papers 7932, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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