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The Unequal Work Day: A Long-Term View

  • Dora L. Costa

I investigate how the distribution of daily hours worked among prime-aged men has changed since the 1890s by occupational and industrial group and by the hourly wage. I find that although hours of work have fallen for all workers, the decline was disproportionately large among the lowest paid workers. In the past hours worked were very unevenly distributed with the lowest paid workers working the longest day whereas today it is the highest paid workers who work the longest day. I argue that much of the change in the relative length of the work day can be accounted for by changes in the number of daily hours workers are willing to supply. I show that the unequal distribution of work hours in the past equalized income and that in recent times the unequal distribution of hours worked magnifies income disparities, suggesting that wage or wealth data may underestimate long-run improvements in the welfare of the lowest paid workers.

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File URL: http://www.nber.org/papers/w6419.pdf
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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 6419.

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Date of creation: Feb 1998
Date of revision:
Publication status: published as American Economic Review, Vol.88, no.2 (May 1998): 330-334.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:6419
Note: DAE LS
Contact details of provider: Postal: National Bureau of Economic Research, 1050 Massachusetts Avenue Cambridge, MA 02138, U.S.A.
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Web page: http://www.nber.org
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  1. Dora L. Costa, 1997. "Less of a Luxury: The Rise of Recreation since 1888," NBER Working Papers 6054, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Goldin, Claudia & Margo, Robert A, 1992. "The Great Compression: The Wage Structure in the United States at Mid-century," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 107(1), pages 1-34, February.
  3. Shelly J. Lundberg, 1984. "Tied Wage-Hours Offers and the Endogeneity of Wages," NBER Working Papers 1431, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Jeremy Atack & Fred Bateman, 1990. "How Long Was the Workday in 1880?," NBER Historical Working Papers 0015, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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