September 24, 2004

WE COMPLAIN, SO IT MUST BE TRUE (via Michael Herdegen):

A New Productivity Paradox: The government's data says Americans are working fewer hours. But you're still staying at the office every night. What gives? (Daniel Altman, October 2004,

Alan Greenspan and his colleagues at the Fed are thrilled about the productivity revolution sweeping the American workplace. And justifiably so. According to government statistics, the productivity of American workers has grown more in the past three years than it did during any similar stretch since World War II, and has risen by an average of 3 percent annually since 1996. The numbers suggest the economy can grow more quickly without triggering inflation. Yet many workers complain that they're paying the price in longer, tougher workdays.

Oddly, however, the official statistics tell a different story. According to the Commerce Department's Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average hours worked in a week actually dropped by 1 percent from the end of 2001 to the end of 2003, even as the economy grew by 6.8 percent. You and everyone you know may be clocking long hours at the office, but the BLS says you're atypical. So what's going on?

The next person you meet who actually does work harder and longer hours than his father, grandfather, great-grandfather, etc. did will be the first.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 24, 2004 10:14 AM

I suspect that finance workers (brokers, many bankers, some bond traders, commodities traders, accountants, and the like) probably work a lot harder/longer than their predecessors from the 50s and 60s.

But for many fields, your comment is probably true. In my case, I get more work done in less time (due primarily to computer imaging of technical documents), and I don't need to work OT to meet deadlines. That was common in the 80s and early 90s, but not so now. However, if the construction of energy infrastructure starts to take off, I might be back to some 60-hour weeks (although I can't maintain that like when I was 25-30).

Posted by: jim hamlen at September 24, 2004 10:25 AM


All their transactions and calculations are or can be done electronically now.

Posted by: oj at September 24, 2004 10:34 AM

[T]he average hours worked in a week actually dropped by 1 percent from the end of 2001 to the end of 2003.

And that doesn't even include hours spent blogging.

Posted by: David Cohen at September 24, 2004 11:17 AM


Just because you aren't filling out forms doesn't mean your hands don't get a workout from the keyboard. Ask any mortgage broker (or his secretary).

Posted by: jim hamlen at September 24, 2004 12:06 PM

When do you think pollers will figure out the a lot of people lie in their responses.

Posted by: Brandon at September 24, 2004 12:07 PM


Yes, referring to that as a "workout" proves my point.

Posted by: oj at September 24, 2004 12:09 PM

OK, you win on the sweat scale. But I still think many jobs are much faster paced today than 40 or 50 years ago. Plus, who ever heard of customer service in 1950? I'll bet airline workers, auto mechanics, and retail workers back then did not have 1/3 the stress and pushback they get today (deserved or not).

Posted by: jim hamlen at September 24, 2004 10:07 PM

Orrin has never been in a factory or laboratory and does not associate with that minority of the citizenry that does most of the work.

My siblings and children all work much longer hours than our parents and grandparents did. I did, too, until I was 40, when I decided I'd had enough of 7-day, 90 hour weeks with no vacations.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at September 25, 2004 3:03 PM



Posted by: oj at September 25, 2004 4:52 PM

You don't get out much, do you?

It turns out that the cleavage separating the 'Two Cultures' is not scientific knowledge/religious ignorance, but having work to do/having nothing to do.

Possibly the people I see everyday are not typical, but most of them are overworked.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at September 25, 2004 10:32 PM

The two cultures are divided by the need for real specialization in the sciences and then the arts pretending to same.

Neither scientists nor artists of today work any harder than their grandfathers did either.

Posted by: oj at September 26, 2004 12:18 AM