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U.S. Department of Labor Futurework
  Trends and Challenges for Work in the 21st Century
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The Time-Squeeze in American Families:
From Causes to Solutions

Marin Clarkberg
Cornell University

The Household Workweek

These data demonstrate that considering work hours at the household level yields new insights. This should not be surprising to social scientists, who frequently conceptualize the allocation of time to the labor market as a product of rational household-level calculation. But to what extent do the work hours behaviors we observe, including the trend of increasing hours for dual-earner families, reflect these household level calculations? Or, do actual work hours reflect the institutionalized nature of jobs and the workplace where part-time jobs are rare and under-rewarded? Are employees working long hours out of sense of professionalism, or because they are feel compelled to participate in the “rat race” which dictates that they must demonstrate a willingness to work long hours as a way to show loyalty or commitment to their job or employer?

To explore these issues, Phyllis Moen and I have used the National Survey of Families and Households, which collected data on from both partners in 4,500 married couple households across the nation. The NSFH is a two-wave study, with data collected in 1987-88 and again in 1994-95, which gathered extensive information about both work and family life. What particularly intrigued us about these data is that the NSFH asked both partners in a marriage about the number of hours they worked last week, as well as about their preferences for work hours. In particular, the NSFH asked respondents, “If you could work just the number of hours in paid employment that you would like, how many hours per week would that be?” By examining these responses and the relationship they have with both concurrent behavior as well as behavior changes over the two waves of the survey, we can develop a better idea of how and to what extent contemporary work force behavior fits and reflects the goals and desires with contemporary families.

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