Time allocation and working time preferences: a gender and life course perspective

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Why write a chapter on working time when Gerhard Bosch and I have been for a long time gently arguing and quarrelling over the overall efficiency of a general re- duction of working time and its potential impact on unemployment? Well, because in spite of our minor academic controversy, time has not eroded our friendship, our mutual esteem, or our 20 year-long scientific collaboration. And, despite the fact that each of us is still deeply persuaded that he is right ©, we have always been convinced, and have spelled this out in joint publications (such as Anxo et al. 2010), that time and income allocation across the life course should be a central issue not only in socio-economics but also – and even more crucially – an element on the political agenda. Time is and will continue to be by its nature a scarce resource, and that human beings will never attain immortality in spite of the scientif- ic progress in medicine, biology and genetics. Nevertheless, the substantial exten- sion of life expectancy during the last century has surely influenced individuals’ time preferences and time allocation between various social activities. It should also be stressed that if physical time is a scarce resource, time allocation and its division by gender across the life course is per se a social construction varying between historical periods, institutional regimes and societal system. In the aftermath of the industrial revolution the reduction of weekly working time became a major demand of the labour movement that gave rise to harsh class conflicts between labour and capital. The negative externalities associated with extreme long working hours and horrific working conditions at the beginning of the industrial revolution and during the period of primitive capital accumulation resulted in successive working time reforms either through legislation and/or col- lective agreements: the introduction of 8-hour day in the aftermath of the first world war, the introduction of 40 hour week already during the 1930s in France and the USA and its extension to other industrial countries during the “Trente glo- rieuses”, that is, the thirty-year boom period that followed the Second World War. Over the last century the average time spent on market work in modern econo- mies has been reduced drastically due to an increased demand for leisure time in a period of high economic growth and rising living standards. Modern societies have also experienced a clear postponement of entry into the labour market due to a rapid expansion of secondary and tertiary education combined with a marked tendency to earlier exit from the labour force at the end of the job career due to, among other things, lower statutory retirement age and the use of early retirement. It is therefore undeniable that over the last century the average time spent on paid work across the life-course has been reduced drastically implying a large increase in time spent on leisure resulting from successive reforms aiming at re- ducing working-time, additional paid holidays, earlier exit from the labour force and increased life expectancy. Obviously, these global trends that are common to most modern societies mask large differences between social classes and socio-economic groups and have to be complemented by more disaggregated analyses; for example, inter alia, by gender, educational attainment and skill levels. To illustrate: during the last three decades the clear tendency towards the feminisation of the labour force and the related shift from a male breadwinner model towards a dual-earner model in many post-indus- trial economies has implied a clear increase of female labour supply and a length- ening of time devoted to market work by women. Previous empirical studies have also clearly shown that early exit from the labour force among older workers is related to educational attainment, skill levels, good working conditions and health status (see Anxo et al. 2012a). It should also be noted that despite the common trends large discrepancies still exist among EU Member States regarding the length and distribution of working time, the gender division of labour between paid and non paid work (domestic and care activities) and working time preferences across the life course. The main objective of this chapter is to identify and analyse these discrepancies taking a gender perspective.

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  • Dominique Anxo

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