81 Monthly Lab. Rev. 23 (1958)
The Workweek in American Industry 1850-1956

handle is hein.journals/month81 and id is 47 raw text is: The Workweek in
American Industry
1850-1956
JOSEPH S. ZEISEL*
ONE of the most persistent and significant trends
in the American economy in the past century has
been the continuing long-term decline in the work-
week in industry. From an average of about 66
hours worked in 1850--the equivalent of 11 hours
a day, 6 days a week-the workweek in non-
agricultural industries declined to nearly 40 hours
in 1956-generally 8 hours a day, 5 days a week.
A similar sharp reduction in the workweek on
farms has also been reported. This dramatic
reduction in hours worked has been accomplished
by taking part of the fruits of increasing produc-
tivity in the form of greater leisure.
The length of the workweek is a basic factor in
measuring the Nation's economic well-being.
The amount of goods and services that we pro-
duce, when related to the number of persons at
work and the length of the workweek, provides
an estimate of our productiveness. The amount
of leisure that we can afford should be considered
as an element of our standard of living. Goods
and services, produced and purchased by time
worked, make up part of our high standard of
living; leisure, also purchased, in effect, by work,
is another part. Both income and leisure must
be considered when assessing the level of living
of the American population.
Source of Workweek Data
Not much comprehensive, reliable information
on hours of work is available for the period before
World War II. Data for individual industries
have been compiled for a number of decades and
rough estimates made of overall hours worked in

broad sectors of the economy for the past century.
One such series of estimates on average weekly
hours worked,1 covering the period 1850-1940, is
presented in chart 1. These data are rough at
best. Also, as with all long-term series, the com-
parability of the data is compromised by changing
employment classifications and industry defini-
tions. Nevertheless, the series provides a reason-
ably satisfactory indication of levels and long-
term trend.2
For more recent years, the U. S. Department of
Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics has published
annual data on average weekly hours for manufac-
turing industries, starting in 1919, and for mining,
contract construction, and for a few sectors of
transportation and public utilities, trade, and
service, starting at various later dates.8
In 1941, the Census Bureau began collecting
data on hours of work for all employed persons
(agricultural and nonagricultural workers, in-
cluding groups excluded from Bureau of Labor
Statistics figures-workers in agriculture, the self-
employed, unpaid family workers, and household
workers). The Census data are collected through
a household sample survey, and attempt to meas-
ure all of the hours worked by individuals in the
survey week.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics data come from
payroll records of establishments and measure
the number of hours worked in a given industry.
Both of these types of data are valuable; BLS
data have the advantage of being fairly precise
estimates of average hjurs worked by industry,
obtained from a relatively large sample of estab-
lishments. *Census data, on the other hand, have
broader coverage and provide estimates of all
hours worked by individuals; however, they are
not based on records and the respondents some-
times cannot remember or do not know the hours
worked by other members of the household.
*Of the Diviion of Manpower and Employment statistics Bureau of
Labor sttile.
t . Frederic Dewhrst and AsOociates, Amealm's Need and Rouree -
A No Survey (New York, The Twentieth Century Fund, 1955), p. 1073.
' Other estimates of hours of work for the period 1840 through 1890 are avail-
abl from a ecal Congressional report (S. Rept. 1394, 52d Cent., 2d sm.,
1883, Part 1, pD. 178-179) and, for 1880-139O, from Real Wages in the United.
States, 1890-192, by Paul H. Douglas (Bosaton, Houghton Mifflin Co., 1930).
Both of these sourcm agree in general with the trend of bous Indicated in
cbort 1.
' For a detailed lit of Industris fur which hours data ore available plus
information on date of origin, ee Guide to Employmont Statistics of BL8-
Employment, Hours and Earning, Labor Turnovor (Burveu of Labor
statiutics, 19M).
28

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