Working Harder in US – Women account for all of the increase in prime-age adults’ annual work hours from 1979 to 2016

This report tracks annual hours worked by prime-age adults by gender, race, ethnicity, wage level, and family structure. The trends across so many different groups are hard to summarize briefly, but one particular pattern stands out: workers seem to be increasingly separating into two groups: prime-age adults who are falling out of, or never get into, the labor market at all, and prime-age adults who are employed and working more hours.

Between 1979 and 2016, more men have exited the labor market and more women have entered the labor market, narrowing but not closing the gender gap in hours worked per year. In 1979, only 6.3 percent of prime-age men did not work at all over the course of a year (were nonearners), but that number nearly doubled to 11.9 percent in 2016. The share of prime-age women who did not work declined from 29.8 percent in 1979 to 19.4 percent in 1999, then rose to 24.1 percent by 2016.

As shown in Table 1, average annual work hours increased 7.8 percent among all prime-age adults from 1979 to 2016. On average, increased work hours among prime-age women accounts for all of the growth in total work hours, since the average hours worked by prime-age men declined. The decline in prime-age men’s work hours is largely due to the rise in the share of prime-age men who are not working. Though not shown in Table 1, in 1979, only 6.3 percent of prime-age men were nonearners, but that number nearly doubled to 11.9 percent in 2016. Over the same period, prime-age working men (earners) only increased annual work hours by 0.8 percent. This lack of growth in work hours among men who are employed partly reflects the fact that the average prime-age male worker was already working roughly 2,000 hours per year in 1979, a level consistent with working full-time year-round, and leaving little room to increase hours further. On the other hand, the average working woman worked well under 2,000 hours per year in 1979, and since then, women’s work hours have grown substantially. Though women remain more likely to be nonearners than men, the share of women not working declined from 29.8 percent in 1979 to 24.1 percent in 2016 (not shown in Table 1). Working women have increased hours by an average of 21.2 percent over this same period.

Recent years have seen much written about trends in labor force participation. This report digs deeper into participation across demographic and economic characteristics of workers, but also adds a new dimension to this discussion—trends in working hours by those who did manage to find work. We hope these findings will provide the evidentiary base for policymakers to address the problem of non-participation, as well as to make sure all workers are able to find as much work as they want.

Chosen excerpts by Job Market Monitor. Read the whole story at Working harder or finding it harder to work: Demographic trends in annual work hours show an increasingly fractured workforce | Economic Policy Institute


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