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How Long Was the Workday in 1880?

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  • Jeremy Atack
  • Fred Bateman

Abstract

We know remarkably little about the length of the working day before the 1880s. In this paper, we summarize what is known about the trend in the length of the workday in American manufacturing industry from 1830 to 1890. We than develop estimates of the daily hours of work and form the basis for our on-going research into the performance and operation of the industrial labor market in America in the late nineteenth century. We conclude on the basis of our firm-level sample data that the average workday in American manufacturing industry in 1880 was almost exactly ten hours, placing the attainment of the ten-hour day almost a decade earlier than hitherto supposed. Despite the decline in hours to 1880, however, daily hours of work were still long enough that they would have required the use of artificial light in most factories during the winter. Our statistical analysis also reveals and documents small but statistically variations in hours between firms and industries and between regions and by location.

Suggested Citation

  • Jeremy Atack & Fred Bateman, 1990. "How Long Was the Workday in 1880?," NBER Historical Working Papers 0015, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberhi:0015
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    Cited by:

    1. Robert A. Margo, 2014. "Economies of Scale in Nineteenth-Century American Manufacturing Revisited: A Resolution of the Entrepreneurial Labor Input Problem," NBER Chapters,in: Enterprising America: Businesses, Banks, and Credit Markets in Historical Perspective, pages 215-244 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Moshe Hazan, 2009. "Longevity and Lifetime Labor Supply: Evidence and Implications," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 77(6), pages 1829-1863, November.
    3. Dora L. Costa, 1993. "Explaining the Changing Dynamics of Unemployment: Evidence from Civil War Records," NBER Historical Working Papers 0051, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    4. Costa, Dora L., 1995. "Health, Income, and Retirement: Evidence from Nineteenth-Century America," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 55(02), pages 374-375, June.
    5. 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 156-181, January.
    6. Jeremy Atack & Fred Bateman, 2000. "Downtime in American Manufacturing Industry: 1870 and 1880," Vanderbilt University Department of Economics Working Papers 0048, Vanderbilt University Department of Economics.
    7. Maria Stanfors & Frances Goldscheider, 2017. "The forest and the trees: Industrialization, demographic change, and the ongoing gender revolution in Sweden and the United States, 1870-2010," Demographic Research, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, Rostock, Germany, vol. 36(6), pages 173-226, January.
    8. Atack, Jeremy & Bateman, Fred & Margo, Robert A., 2003. "Productivity in manufacturing and the length of the working day: evidence from the 1880 census of manufactures," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 40(2), pages 170-194, April.
    9. Gray, Rowena, 2013. "Taking technology to task: The skill content of technological change in early twentieth century United States," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 50(3), pages 351-367.
    10. Bordo Michael D. & Dittmar Robert D & Gavin William T., 2007. "Gold, Fiat Money, and Price Stability," The B.E. Journal of Macroeconomics, De Gruyter, vol. 7(1), pages 1-31, August.
    11. Domenech, Jordi, 2007. "Working hours in the European periphery: The length of the working day in Spain, 1885-1920," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 44(3), pages 469-486, July.
    12. Dora L. Costa, 2000. "From Mill Town to Board Room: The Rise of Women's Paid Labor," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 14(4), pages 101-122, Fall.
    13. Costa, Dora L, 1998. "The Unequal Work Day: A Long-Term View," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 88(2), pages 330-334, May.
    14. W. Michael Cox & Richard Alm, 1993. "These are the good old days: a report on U.S. living standards," Annual Report, Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, pages 2-25.
    15. Jeremy Atak & Fred Bateman & Robert A. Margo, 2001. "Part-Year Operation in 19th Century American Manufacturing: Evidence from the 1870 and 1880 Censuses," Macroeconomics 0105001, EconWPA.
    16. Michael R. Haines, 1991. "The Use of Historical Census Data for Mortality and Fertility Research," NBER Historical Working Papers 0031, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    17. Fogel, Robert W, 1994. "Economic Growth, Population Theory, and Physiology: The Bearing of Long-Term Processes on the Making of Economic Policy," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 84(3), pages 369-395, June.
    18. Michael Huberman, 2002. "Working Hours of the World Unite? New International Evidence on Worktime, 1870-1900," CIRANO Working Papers 2002s-77, CIRANO.

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