Longer work week a result of less unions
US college campus economics departments have likely only now ended their cheering at the effective demise of the French laws mandating 35 hour weeks for larger enterprises. However, it appears that the French law is being scapgoated because, just two years ago, it was shown to have increased employment and people enjoyed the boom in leisure business and time off. (though one has to scroll down to read that).
I bring this up because of this interesting article in this week's Economist magazine which shows that perhaps the increase in hours in American workers' work week and the decrease in hours across Western Europe over the past 35 years is probably based more on the fact of unionization in Europe and the lack of it in America than any other single factor. Very few American economists would have thought of that because they don't see unions as factors in their analyses any longer in the private sector, at least--while in Europe unions still matter.
One particular part of the article caught my attention: Before 1970, Americans on average worked less hours per week or year than Western Europeans as a whole. The article does not say so, but unions were still fairly strong in the US before 1970, which may have itself been due to America having a strong union sector from the late 1930s up till around 1970. This would, interestingly enough, provide further support for the theory floated in the Economist article.
There is a snarkiness behind the Economist article, particularly with its opening discussion of Joseph Stalin trying to force an entire nation of workers to have different 6th and 7th days off--the madness of an extreme collectivist state ordering everyone to have different "weekends." The article also enjoyed pointing out how France and Germany have backed off the shorter work week, at least for now. But it never occurs to the Economist writers that perhaps the competition from workaholic schedules in America may have had an adverse effect upon more civilized work schedules that France and Germany had begun to promote. Perhaps if America took the lead in lowering its work weeks, at least with respect to larger businesses and government non-security related departments, these other nations might find a continuing salutary effect of a less than 40 hour work week. Yes, I know that's a pipe dream in our current environment, and perhaps so with the growth of small businesses over the past two or more decades. The failure to even debate this proposition in our universities or legislatures instead of the usual sex and death issues is what I find most frustrating.
(new title I thought more appropriate upon edit and other edits--MJF)