Women Want Shorter Work Days

Twice as many women as men want to cut back on work hours, even at the sacrifice of pay, according to a new analysis of labor statistics. 

The study found that while 5.6 percent of men would opt for fewer work hours, 10.1 percent of women would prefer less time spent in the office. The gap might reflect women’s disproportionate share of household responsibilities, the researchers say. Another explanation might be that women just feel they need to spend more time at home with their children.

The results, detailed in the April issue of the U.S. Department of Labor's Monthly Labor Review, have implications for understanding why women’s participation in the labor force, which had climbed in the early 1990s, has leveled off over the past five to 10 years, said the study’s lead author Lonnie Golden, a Penn State University economist.

Golden also suggested the overworked might somehow "lend" their hours to the unemployed.

Time crunch

Golden analyzed data from the 2001 U.S. Current Population Survey, in which more than 57,000 individuals responded to supplemental questions involving work-hour preferences. The survey, conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, produces monthly and annual-average estimates of the nation’s employment and unemployment. 

Overall, about 7 percent of the men and women surveyed reported they would sacrifice some income if they could cut back on work hours, while 23 percent wanted more work and the additional pay that would come with it.

Predictors of overemployment included gender, income, marital status, current weekly hours and whether the individual had a young child.

The more dough a person has rolling in, the more likely that person will opt to trade a pay cut for a cut in hours, Golden and her colleagues found. “At some point, people reach a level of pay where they start thinking about that [pay] sacrifice more seriously, as their time is more scarce and becomes more valuable to them,” Golden said.

Individuals who reported having a child under the age of 3 were more likely to report overemployment, as were married people.  

The “health diagnosing” occupation, which Golden said includes physicians and physician assistants, had the highest overemployment rate of 20 percent, compared to 14 percent of lawyers and judges who reported being overemployed.

Woman’s world

The study results speak to the nation’s employment-unemployment rates and the underlying driver of a woman’s participation in the work force.

Currently, the unemployment rate in the United States is about 4.5 percent. However, the survey revealed nearly a quarter of participants wanted more work. If the overworked could lend their hours to those either without jobs or in need of more income, the result could be a win-win situation, Golden suggests.  

“If you have so many people hungry for hours and more income, how rational is it to have a segment of your workforce that wants to get rid of some hours and is willing to sacrifice income to do so?” Golden told LiveScience.

The findings related to women in the workplace point out a need for re-structuring of the workplace, Golden said. Economists and other labor researchers have debated whether women leave the workforce because they are happier at home or because the workplace is too rigid and prevents a balanced work-home life.

Golden leans toward the inflexibility factor, which he says can make it nearly impossible for some women to take care of household responsibilities while maintaining a career.

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Jeanna Bryner
Live Science Editor-in-Chief

Jeanna served as editor-in-chief of Live Science. Previously, she was an assistant editor at Scholastic's Science World magazine. Jeanna has an English degree from Salisbury University, a master's degree in biogeochemistry and environmental sciences from the University of Maryland, and a graduate science journalism degree from New York University. She has worked as a biologist in Florida, where she monitored wetlands and did field surveys for endangered species. She also received an ocean sciences journalism fellowship from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.