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Beyond BLS

Beyond BLS briefly summarizes articles, reports, working papers, and other works published outside BLS on broad topics of interest to MLR readers.

July 2022

A look at how our standard 5-day workweek has changed over 50 years

Summary written by: John C. Roach

Public interest in a compressed workweek has grown rapidly over the last decade, especially since the onset of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic in 2020. In their working paper, “Days of work over a half century: the rise of the four-day week” (National Bureau of Economic Research, Working Paper 30106, June 2022), authors Daniel S. Hamermesh and Jeff Biddle examine work patterns across the United States from 1973 to 2018, focusing on the number of days worked each week.

Using data obtained from various Current Population Survey and American Time Use Survey samples, the authors observe that in 2017 and 2018, the number of U.S. workers who worked only 4 days a week increased. Compared with those in 1973, an additional 8.2 million workers of 30+ hours per week and 6.0 million workers of 40+ hours per week worked a 4-day workweek. South Korea, the Netherlands, and Germany grew at an equal rate as the United States. This increase was more prevalent among men than women but similar among African-American workers, non-Black Hispanic workers, and workers of other races. However, the 4-day workweek occurred more often among firefighters, police, and healthcare workers, who commonly work 4-day, 10-hour, shifts, and among restaurant and bar workers. Hamermesh and Biddle also note that previous research has discussed the possible lack of productivity at the end of a long shift as an outcome of the shorter workweek. But they note too that reduced childcare and commuting costs may be obvious benefits associated with a 4-day workweek over the standard 5-day workweek.

Using data from large U.S. surveys (1973 through 2018), Hamermesh and Biddle present results that show a tripling of the full-time 4-day workweeks in the United States, which is over a 4-percent increase in full-time employment. They also find that the overall increase in income over the 50-year study period from 1973 to 2018 has minimized the effect of the wage penalty of workers working a 4-day workweek. In the end, the authors conclude that the increase in 4-day workweeks can be attributed more to workers’ desire for a 3-day weekend than to changes in workforce demographics, establishment size, or industrial structure.