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The Wage and the Length of the Work Day: From the 1890s to 1991

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  • Dora L. Costa

Abstract

I investigate how the relationship between the wage and the length of the work day has changed since the 1890s among prime-aged men and women. I find that across wage deciles deciles, and within industry and occupation groups the most highly paid worked fewer hours than the lowest paid in the 1890s, but that by 1973 differences in hours worked were small and by 1991 the highest paid worked the longest day. Changing labor supply elasticities explain the compression in the distribution of the length of the work day. In the 1890s the labor supply curve was strongly backwards bending, perhaps because men preferred to smooth hours over their work lives rather than bunch them as they do today. In fact, the intertemporal elasticity of substitution was slightly negative in the 1890s, but by 1973 was positive. I show that the unequal distribution of work hours in the past equalized income, but that between 1973 and 1991 it magnified weekly earnings inequality, accounting for 26 percent of earnings inequality between the top and bottom declines among men, more than all of the earnings inequality among women, and 17 percent of the increase in total household earnings inequality among husband and wife households.

Suggested Citation

  • Dora L. Costa, 1998. "The Wage and the Length of the Work Day: From the 1890s to 1991," NBER Working Papers 6504, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:6504
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    References listed on IDEAS

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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, 1988. "Maximum Hours Legislation and Female Employment: A Reassessment," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 96(1), pages 189-205, February.
    3. Hamermesh, Daniel S, 1999. "The Timing of Work over Time," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 109(452), pages 37-66, January.
    4. 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.
    5. Angrist, Joshua D., 1991. "Grouped-data estimation and testing in simple labor-supply models," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 47(2-3), pages 243-266, February.
    6. Lundberg, Shelly J, 1985. "Tied Wage-Hours Offers and the Endogeneity of Wages," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 67(3), pages 405-410, August.
    7. Juhn, Chinhui & Murphy, Kevin M, 1997. "Wage Inequality and Family Labor Supply," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 15(1), pages 72-97, January.
    8. Claudia Goldin & Robert A. Margo, 1992. "The Great Compression: The Wage Structure in the United States at Mid-Century," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 107(1), pages 1-34.
    9. repec:hrv:faseco:30703979 is not listed on IDEAS
    10. Weiss, Yoram, 1996. "Synchronization of Work Schedules," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 37(1), pages 157-179, February.
    11. Dora L. Costa, 1998. "The Evolution of Retirement: An American Economic History, 1880-1990," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number cost98-1.
    12. Dora L. Costa, 1995. "Pensions and Retirement: Evidence from Union Army Veterans," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 110(2), pages 297-319.
    13. Barzel, Yoram & McDonald, Richard J, 1973. "Assets, Subsistence, and The Supply Curve of Labor," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 63(4), pages 621-633, September.
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    JEL classification:

    • J22 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Time Allocation and Labor Supply
    • N30 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - General, International, or Comparative

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