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Who Wants Flexibility? Changing Work Hours Preferences and Life Events


  • Drago, Robert

    () (Pennsylvania State University)

  • Wooden, Mark

    () (Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research)

  • Black, David

    () (Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research)


We consider desires for flexibility in weekly hours by analyzing changes in work hours preferences using four years of data from the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) Survey. We control for work hours preferences in previous years and test for effects on desired labor force participation and, for those wishing to participate, on current hours preferences. Our findings reveal that, in general, women are more sensitive to life events than men. Women’s preferred hours and labor force participation decline sharply with pregnancy and the arrival of children; their preferred hours approach usual levels as children enter school and ultimately decline as they become empty-nesters. We also find women’s preferred hours increasing following separation but falling after divorce, with an opposing pattern for men. Finally, a sizeable minority of retirees have preferences for phased instead of full retirement.

Suggested Citation

  • Drago, Robert & Wooden, Mark & Black, David, 2006. "Who Wants Flexibility? Changing Work Hours Preferences and Life Events," IZA Discussion Papers 2404, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  • Handle: RePEc:iza:izadps:dp2404

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. René Böheim & Mark P. Taylor, 2004. "Actual and Preferred Working Hours," British Journal of Industrial Relations, London School of Economics, vol. 42(1), pages 149-166, March.
    2. Nicole Watson & Mark Wooden, 2004. "The HILDA Survey Four Years On," Australian Economic Review, The University of Melbourne, Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research, vol. 37(3), pages 343-349, September.
    3. Yi-Ping Tseng & Mark Wooden, 2005. "Preferred vs Actual Working Hours in Couple Households," Melbourne Institute Working Paper Series wp2005n07, Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research, The University of Melbourne.
    4. Johnson, William R & Skinner, Jonathan, 1986. "Labor Supply and Marital Separation," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 76(3), pages 455-469, June.
    5. Kelly Bedard & Olivier Deschênes, 2005. "Sex Preferences, Marital Dissolution, and the Economic Status of Women," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 40(2).
    6. Landers, Renee M & Rebitzer, James B & Taylor, Lowell J, 1996. "Rat Race Redux: Adverse Selection in the Determination of Work Hours in Law Firms," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 86(3), pages 329-348, June.
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    Cited by:

    1. Javier García-Manglano, 2015. "Opting Out and Leaning In: The Life Course Employment Profiles of Early Baby Boom Women in the United States," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 52(6), pages 1961-1993, December.
    2. Nadia Steiber, 2008. ""How Many Hours Would you Want to Work a Week?": Job Quality and the Omitted Variables Bias in Labour Supply Models," SOEPpapers on Multidisciplinary Panel Data Research 121, DIW Berlin, The German Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP).
    3. Wanger, Susanne, 2017. "What makes employees satisfied with their working time? : The role of working hours, time-sovereignty and working conditions for working time and job satisfaction," IAB Discussion Paper 201720, Institut für Arbeitsmarkt- und Berufsforschung (IAB), Nürnberg [Institute for Employment Research, Nuremberg, Germany].

    More about this item


    working hours; preferences; life events; HILDA survey;

    JEL classification:

    • J22 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Time Allocation and Labor Supply

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