Gender and Working Time in Industrialised Countries

Colette Fagan
Sociology, School of Social Sciences
Roscoe Building
University of Manchester
Manchester M13 9PL, UK
tel: 44-161-275-2512

           Gender and Working Time in Industrialised Countries

      Prepared for the Working Time and Work Organisation Team (WTWO) at the
                     International Institute for Labour Studies, ILO

                                       Colette Fagan

Published in:
Messenger, J. (eds.) (2004) Working Time and Workers’ preferences in
Industrialized Countries: Finding the balance, Routldeg, Institute for
Labour Studies of the International Labour Organisation series
1. Introduction
Working-time arrangements in industrialised countries are changing along a number of
dimensions. Some of these changes have been emerging for a number of decades, such as the
expansion of part-time work, while others are more recent developments, such as the
lengthening of the working week in some parts of the economy (see Bosch 1999, Evans et al.
2001 and Lee, this volume).
The main forces driving these changes are enterprises' requirements for more flexible modes of
work organisation to enhance their efficiency in the context of economic restructuring and
globalization. However, there is another, subsidiary pressure in play from the labour supply.
Some workers are seeking out part-time or even 'unsocial' schedules such as night or weekend
work in order to combine employment with other time-consuming activities - such as women
raising children, or young people participating in education. In contrast, some other groups of
workers take jobs where very long hours or 'overworking' are the norm, perhaps in exchange for
higher earnings.
The gender implications associated with these working time developments are twofold. Firstly,
the restructuring of working-time practices has occurred in parallel with a growing involvement
of women in employment when they are raising children. Among couples the traditional 'male
breadwinner' arrangement that was common in many industrialised countries is being eroded by
the rise of 'dual-earner' households, and in addition a growing proportion of women are raising
children in lone-parent households. The established gender division of labour in society is that
women do most of the domestic work and put more time into care work than men, and this
gender arrangement tends to channel women into working-time arrangements that fit with their
domestic commitments. The most notable example is part-time work, but in some countries it is
also common for certain groups of mothers with young children to opt for evening and weekend
schedules. In contrast, few men reduce their working hours to take on care responsibilities
(Fagan 2001a).
The second, related issue is that gender segregation is a persistent feature of the labour market
despite the growing presence of women in the workforce (Anker 1998, Fagan and Burchell
2002, Rubery et al. 1999). This segregation is associated with different working-time schedules,
such that women undertake most of the part-time work while 'overworking' is mostly found in
the male-dominated job areas. Most of the part-time jobs are concentrated in the lower paid and
lower status service jobs, and the opportunities to work part-time in many managerial and
professional areas are limited (O'Reilly and Fagan 1998). Conversely, many of these higher
status white-collar jobs are currently organised in ways that are generally incompatible with the
time demands of family life due to the long hours or type of flexible hours required. Thus, the

working-time schedules associated with different jobs can operate to reinforce gender
segregation. Very long hours or 'overworking' is one of the barriers to women's entry to some
male-dominated job areas and reinforces men's lack of time involvement in their parental roles.
In other parts of the economy the working-time policies adopted by enterprises may mean that
the only jobs open to women are part-time, particularly those with few labour market
alternatives. For example, in the UK, part-time jobs with very short 'marginal' hours
predominate in many female-dominated manual service jobs, such as cleaning or retail. So in
this country the opportunities for women to obtain full-time work may be limited unless they
have sufficient qualifications to enter higher occupational levels or are willing and able to enter
male-dominated manual jobs. Thus large proportions of women may be under-employed in part-
time jobs because of a lack of full-time alternatives.
The diversification of working-time practices - and perhaps workers' working-time preferences -
in conjunction with the general trends of collective bargaining decentralisation and declining
coverage are creating new challenges for how working-time standards are defined and
established. Historically, state intervention and collective bargaining in relation to working time
has centred upon full-time, daytime and weekday work schedules as the reference point of
'standard hours' (Bosch et al. 1994, Bosch 1999). Shorter full-time hours and compensation for
'unsocial' hours (evenings, nights, week-ends and rotating shifts) have been the focus for
regulations, followed in more recent decades by measures to guarantee equal treatment for part-
timers. Similarly, this 'full-time standard' has also been the reference point for the development
of national social protection systems, and it is only recently that the importance of protecting
periods of part-time work have begun to be accommodated in welfare state policies.
The aim in this chapter is to analyse the gender differentials in working-time arrangements and
to assess the policy implications, with a particular focus on the issue of 'work-family'
reconciliation or co-ordination. In section 2 the current pattern of working-time arrangements
are compared by gender and occupational position along the dimensions of the volume,
schedule and autonomy. Some national comparisons are also drawn. Working-time preferences
and the 'work-family' compatibility of work schedules are considered in section 3. Section 4
discusses the policy implications, and conclusions are drawn in section 5.

2. Gender and the component elements of working-time
The established gender division of labour in society, including gender segregation within
employment, produces gender differentiated working-time arrangements. To evaluate the extent
and form of gender differences in working-time it is helpful to distinguish between the different
dimensions of working-time, particularly the volume, schedule, and type of variability (Fagan
2001b). The notion of 'working-time flexibility' must also be clarified. Employers' interests in

working-time flexibility for operational requirements are usually quite distinct from employees'
interests in obtaining more flexibility in the organisation of their working time so as to make it
more compatible with other parts of their lives. Employees may want working-time
arrangements that accommodate a variety of activities - as well as rest and leisure time -
including care responsibilities (children, elders, the domestic work of running a home),
education or other time-consuming undertakings (political and civic commitments, small-scale
self-employment, sporting or creative pursuits). Given this diversity in circumstances it is
plausible that one working-time arrangement may suit some people but not others. For example,
some mothers of young children in the UK opt for evening or weekend work to fit in with their
domestic arrangements if their partner or other family members are available to look after
children during these periods; while others may find it difficult or impossible to organise
childcare in order to go to work during these periods.
Purcell et al. (1999) make a pertinent distinction between 'unstructured' and 'structured'
flexibility, to which we can add the concept of 'autonomous flexibility'. 'Unstructured
flexibility' occurs when employees have little control over the schedule and often the volume of
hours that they work. This may result from explicit contractual arrangements with their
employer, in annualised or zero-hour contracts for example, or in more informal workplace
expectations such as overtime as and when necessary, or the 'long hours cultures' of many
professional and managerial occupations. 'Structured flexibility' is found in working-time
arrangements that are predictable but 'non-standard', such as regular part-time schedules or
rotating shifts. Such arrangements offer employees more control than 'unstructured flexibility' in
the sense of predictable, regular and delineated patterns of work. Structured 'non standard'
schedules also offer labour market alternatives for people who are unable or unwilling to work
'standard' hours. The concept of 'autonomous flexibility' identifies those forms of working-time
flexibility that are geared to employees' needs rather than organisational requirements in the
sense that these arrangements give employees some ability to vary or alter their working-time in
order to accommodate other activities. Examples include formal flexitime or 'time banking'
systems; contractual rights to switch between full-time and part-time hours; and extended leave
entitlements such as parental leave.1

2.1 The volume of weekly working hours
The gender gap in employment rates has fallen in recent years, however, men still commit more
time to paid work than do women, whether measured over the day, week, year or lifetime.
Conversely, gender inequality in the division of unpaid labour persists, for women commit more
time to childcare and unpaid domestic work. There is a slow process of 'lagged adaptation'

underway, whereby men's relative contribution to childcare and domestic work has increased
across recent generations in response to women's rising time commitment to employment
(Gershuny et al. 1994, Gershuny 2000). To date, this adaptation of the gender division of labour
is still very limited. For example, in couple households with a child aged less than five years old
and where both adults are employed full-time, on average mothers spend just over twice as
much time on childcare and other domestic work as fathers (OECD 2001)2. However,
multivariate analysis shows that men's relative contribution increases according to the number
of hours the women devotes to employment in some European countries, which suggests that a
reduction in the gender working hours gap would facilitate a more gender equal domestic
division of labour (Anxo et al. 2002).
Table 1 and Figure 1 illustrates this gender difference in employment with a comparison of the
volume of usual weekly hours worked by employed men and women in selected industrialised
countries. Usual weekly working hours are important to consider given the regular time-
demands of domestic life and hence 'work-family' reconciliation debates (for an international
comparison of annual working hours see Evans et al. 2001 and Lee, chapter 2 this volume).3
The dispersal of working hours is also relevant, for a polarization of working hours seems
through an expansion of very short and very long work weeks seems to be emerging in some
countries, such as Australia, the US and Canada (Australian Bureau of Statistics 1999, Golden
and Figart 2000, Wong and Picot 2001).

Table 1 near here

Figure 1 near here

In every country the profile for men is dominated by full-time hours. In contrast, employed
women are more likely to work part-time or shorter full-time hours, and tend to have a more
dispersed range of working hours than do men. The analysis also demonstrates national
differences in the volume of weekly working hours, most notably in the rates of part-time work
for women and, particularly among men, the proportion with very long full-time working hours.
A substantial number of studies have shown that international differences in working hours are
also found where more precise comparisons are made according to type of sector or occupation
(e.g.. Anxo and O'Reilly 2000, Bosch et al. 1994 and 1997, Bosch and Lehndorff forthcoming,

  Some arrangements for employees to do some or all of their work from home may also be included under
'autonomous flexibility' in the sense that working from home can offer temporal as well as spatial flexibility.
  The inequality in the gender division of domestic labour is more pronounced when viewed from a societal rather
than a two-adult household perspective because a growing proportion of child raising is located in female-headed
lone parent households, and men's contribution to the unpaid work in these households is minimal.

Boulin and Hoffman 1999, Golden and Figart 2000, Rubery et al. 1998 and 1999). This body of
research has demonstrated that these national differences result from different institutional
arrangements that impact on how working-time is organised (see also Lee, chapter 2 this
volume). A key factor is the different statutory regulations and collective agreements on
working-time. The structure of employers' non-wage labour costs also has a bearing. For
example, hours or earnings thresholds in the structure of employers' social security contributions
can encourage employers to create 'short hour' part-time jobs to reduce these costs, while per
capita rather than hourly-related costs create fixed costs that can deter the use of part-time
contracts. Other institutional differences also play a role through their influence on labour
supply, including wage levels and differentials, the structure of personal taxation, incentives or
barriers to part-time work in the unemployment support system, and the availability and
opening hours of childcare; the latter of which mainly impacts on maternal labour supply. These
institutional frameworks influence the decisions and negotiations of employers and the
workforce at the organizational level, where additional more specific sector and regional
conditions affect the particular working-time policies and innovations that develop.
Long working hours remain prevalent, particularly for men, in many countries. This is despite
the substantial reductions that were achieved over the last century, largely driven by collective
negotiations and legislation. In some countries this downward trend continues, for example in
France where the 35-hour week has been introduced by legislation. Substantial reductions have
also been achieved in some other countries, including Denmark, Germany, Portugal, the
Netherlands and Japan since the 1980s (see Lee, chapter 2 this volume). However, the incidence
of long hours of work among full-timers has risen in some countries, most notably in the UK,
the US and Australia (Bosch 1999, Evans et al. 2001, Lee this volume). A 48-hour upper-limit
to weekly hours has been established in the European Union's Working-Time Directive, and
regulations in most member states establish a more stringent limit on weekly hours (see
McCann, chapter 1 this volume). If we use this 48-hour threshold as one possible indicator of
'overworking'4 then Figure 1 shows that the incidence of very long weekly hours tends to be
higher in the non-EU countries shown (Japan, the US, Australia, New Zealand) compared to the
overall figure for the EU member states. However, within the EU there are still around one in
five employed men work hours at or in excess of this 48-hour limit, as are 9% of employed
women, with the incidence of long working hours particularly prevalent for men in Ireland,
Greece and the UK and for women in Greece, Spain and Portugal. (see Lee, chapter 2 this
volume for additional discussion of excessive hours of work). Men's working hours are shortest

  A gender breakdown of annual working hours is available from Table 6b of the ILO's volume (2002) Key
Indicators of the Labour Market.
  This 48-hour threshold has been adopted from the Working-Time Directive for illustrative purposes only, and it
might be appropriate to define 'overworking' using a lower threshold. Certainly this threshold was a matter of debate

in France, Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands (averages are between 37-40 per week). More
than 60% of employed men have usual weekly hours in the 35-39 hour range in France, as do
around half of the employed men in Denmark and Belgium5. In France there has been a shift
towards the lower end of the 35-39 hour category in line with the statutory reduction of the
working week from 39 to 35 hours. Long working hours are less prevalent for women, but again
there are national differences in average working hours, associated with the different rates of
part-time work and 'overworking'.
Part-time employment has increased in recent decades in most industrialised countries,
stabilising or declining only in some countries where comparatively high rates have been
reached (O'Reilly and Fagan 1998). Part-time hours can be defined using various thresholds6,
although it should be noted that in a few countries, such as Japan, the concept of part-time work
is not tied to the volume of work undertaken but to the lower status of the worker within the
firm (Houseman and Osawa 1998). In relation to working hours it is useful to distinguish
between those jobs with 'marginal' or 'short' part-time hours (defined here as less than 20 hours
per week) and those with longer or 'substantial' part-time hours (defined here as 20-34 hours per
week), with some of the latter category working only a few hours less than some full-timers.
This distinction is important for measuring the volume of hours worked, it is also important in
some labour law or social protection systems where a specific hour threshold is used to define
'marginal' part-timers with fewer entitlements, for example in Germany (European Commission
1999). As Lee argues in chapter 2 of this volume, there is also some evidence that in some
countries short part-time hours are also marginal on the dimension of a poorer job quality
relative to that of substantial part-time arrangements.
Most part-timers are women. The rate of part-time work for women varies markedly between
countries, for example a full-time working week of 35 hours or more is much more common for
employed women in the US, Finland, Portugal and Spain than in the other countries shown.
Taking 'short' and 'substantial' part-time hours together, The Netherlands has the highest rate of
female part-time work by a long distance, followed by the UK, Australia, Sweden, and
Denmark.7 Both short part-time (less than 20) and more substantial part-time hours are common
in the Netherlands, the UK and Australia. The incidence of short part-time hours is rising
rapidly in some other countries, notably Germany, Japan, Australia and Ireland (Lee, table 2,
chapter 2 this volume). Elsewhere women's part-time work tends to be organised around longer

among governments, trade unions and employers' associations in the European negotiations on the Working-Time
  A similar pattern is found in Norway (see Fagan 2001a).
  The hour threshold used in official statistics, labour law and collective agreements vary between countries and
sometimes within countries. A 30-hour threshold encompasses most forms of part-time work in many countries,
while a 35-hour threshold prevails in some others, such as Sweden and the US.
  Part-time work is also common for women in a number of other industrialised countries not shown here, including
Norway and New Zealand.

weekly working hours (20-34). Some women with weekly working hours in the 20-34 hour
range have full-time rather than part-time contracts, for example many of the women working
these hours in Greece and Italy are full-time public sector workers working less than 35 hours a
week. Rates of part-time work have risen for men in recent years but it is still rare in most
countries and is usually concentrated on students and those approaching retirement (Delsen
1998). Again, The Netherlands leads the way, where one fifth of employed men now work less
than 35 hours a week, and where part-time work for men has spread into the core working years.
Hence a large part of the explanation for the gender differential in the volume of weekly hours
is the greater propensity of women to work part-time. Many select part-time work because they
have care responsibilities. For example, around two thirds of women and one third of men
working part-time in the European Union report that they do not want full-time jobs (European
Commission 2000, table 38). Most of the women in the EU who have selected part-time work
have done so because they have children or other domestic commitments, as have one third of
the minority of men who have selected part-time work (Fagan 2001a, table 39). The rate of part-
time work in the USA is lower than that found in many European countries, but again women
are more likely to work part-time than men, and here around one in five part-timers have
selected this working arrangement due to childcare problems or family obligations8. The
decision to take part-time work for family reasons is influenced by the range of alternative
work-family reconciliation measures available. For some it is the preferred option selected from
a range of alternative forms of childcare or working arrangements, for other it is tightly
constrained decision or 'notional choice', particularly if they live in places where childcare
services are limited, expensive or socially unacceptable.
Other reasons for working part-time should not be overlooked. In particular 'involuntary' part-
time work – where full-time hours are preferred but unavailable – vary markedly for both sexes
between countries, ranging from less than 10% of part-timers in the USA, the UK, the
Netherlands and Norway to at least one in five in Sweden, France, Spain, Greece and Portugal
(see Lee, figure 6 chapter 2 this volume). The majority of involuntary part-time workers are
women, although in some countries the rate of involuntary part-time work is higher among the
small proportion of men employed part-time. The proportion of part-timers who are students
also varies markedly between countries, with particularly large proportions of the part-time
workforce being students in Denmark (35%), Finland (28%) the US and Ireland (19% in each).
In each country men working part-time are much more likely to be students than are women in
part-time jobs.
Another reason for the gender differential in the volume of working hours is gender segregation,
whereby the working-time requirements often vary between 'male-dominated' and 'female-

dominated' areas of employment. These working-time differences between jobs are due to
operational requirements plus labour supply considerations, and they play a role in perpetuating
gender segregation in employment. For example, part-time work has often been created
explicitly to recruit or retain women (Beechey and Perkins 1987, Horrell and Rubery 1991),
while the requirement to work long hours in particular jobs such as management help to
preserve this area of employment as a largely male enclave (Wajcman 1998). More men than
women are also self-employed - although the female share is increasing in a number of
countries, particularly in the US - and self-employed men typically work longer hours than
employees, particularly the self-employed with their own employees (Fagan and Burchell,
Job differences in usual weekly hours of work are illustrated in table 2, using occupational data
from a recent survey of the EU member states9. Men in management and in skilled agricultural
and fishery jobs work the longest hours, while the shortest average hours for men are in clerical
work and elementary occupations. The incidence of very long hours is also high for
professionals and service and shop workers, where about one quarter of employed men usually
work 48 or more hours per week, but these occupations also include a relatively high proportion
of men working part-time. Overall, men are most likely to work less than 35 hours a week if
they are in professional, service and shop work, elementary, or skilled agricultural work.
Compared to men, women work shorter hours within each occupational group, but there are
marked differences between women according to their occupational position. Women work
particularly long hours if they are in the male-dominated area of managerial work or agricultural
work. Marginal part-time hours are most prevalent among women employed in elementary,
service and shop work. The female-dominated occupation of clerical work offers the least
exposure to either short part-time or long hours of work for both sexes.

Table 2 near here

As we shall see later in this chapter, working-time preference data shows that both
'overworking' and 'short' part-time work are unpopular among the workforce.

  Derived from Current Population Statistics for 2001 (Household data, table 20), US Bureau of Labor Statistics
  The European Foundation for Living and Working Conditions 'The European Working Conditions Survey – 2000'
is a representative survey of the 15 EU member states. The sample size was approximately 1500 in each country; the
data reported here for the EU-15 have been adjusted for country size. See (Merllié and Paoli 2001) for further
information including a discussion of the sample design and weighting. I have compared the volume of working
hours recorded for each country in the European Working Conditions Survey with the results obtained in the larger
sample of the European Labour Force Survey (European Commission 2000), and the results for both surveys are very

2.2 The schedule of hours
Working-time schedules have become more diverse in industrialised countries in recent
decades, associated with changing work practices including the spread of the '24/7 economy'.
The proportion of the workforce with schedules that include evening, night or weekend work, or
variable hours has increased in most industrialised countries, albeit slowly in Australia and
some European countries over the 1990s (Australian Bureau of Statistics 1999, Evans et al.
2001). Similarly, in the US there has been little change in the incidence of many types of
schedules over the last decade (US Bureau of Labor Statistics 2002), but in the last thirty years
pronounced changes have occurred, particularly with a decline in the five-day week and an
expansion in seven-day working (Figart and Golden 2000).
The type of schedules worked is illustrated with data for the EU and USA in tables 3 and 4.
Around one third of the European workforce have what can be defined as the traditional
'standard' schedule of daytime, weekday work without long daily hours (defined as people who
said they never worked 10 hours or more per day). Another 8% work daytime, weekdays but
with some or regular long days (including 2% who worked at least 6 long days a month).
Weekend work, long days and shifts are prevalent. Over one third have daytime schedules that
include some or regular weekend work: 17% with long days and 19% without long days.
Eighteen per cent work either rotating shift schedules or permanent nights. A small minority of
6% work some 'twilight' evenings and nights without working either 'long days' or rotating shift
There are some gender differences in work schedules in the EU. A larger proportion of women's
employment is organised into daytime work – including weekends – with no long days.
Schedules with long days or some weekend work are more common for men. However, there is
no gender difference in the incidence of regular weekend work (21% of each sex), rotating shifts
(18%), or scheduled evening/night hours (6%). The higher rate of part-time work among women
accounts for most of the gender difference in work schedules. Part-timers rarely work long days
of 10 hours or more, but they are roughly twice as likely as full-timers to work 'twilight' evening
and night slots, and only slightly less likely to work week-ends or rotating shifts. Part-timers are
disproportionately involved in these non-standard schedules relative to full-timers in some
European countries, indicating the influence of national working-time regimes on how part-
timers are used to cover different working hours (Rubery et al. 1998).

Table 3 near here

There are also clear job-related differences in work schedules. The 'standard' working day
(daytime, weekday, no long days) is most common for clerical workers, covering 45% of men

and 60% of women employed in this occupation. Weekend work without long days feature most
for men employed in service and sales work (26%), agriculture (22%) and elementary
occupations (22%); for women it is particularly prevalent in service and sales work (37%) and
the incidence for women exceeds that of men for each occupational group except clerical work
where there is no gender difference. Daytime work that includes weekends and long days is
particularly found among managers and skilled agricultural workers of both sexes and male
professionals. The incidence of rotating shifts or permanent nights for men is highest for
operatives (40% of men and 36% of women), service and sales work (27% of men and 24% of
women), men in elementary occupations (25%) and women who are associate professionals
(26%), many of whom are nurses and other health professions.
The data for work schedules in the US (table 4) are not directly comparable with that for the EU
because they only relate to full-time workers (35 hours or more per week) and different
definitions of schedules were used in the survey, in particular no distinction is made between
daytime work on weekdays versus week-ends (see the table notes). But there are parallels with
the picture for the EU. First, there is little gender difference between full-timers in the incidence
of schedules that fall outside of 'regular daytime' hours (defined as anytime between 6am and
6pm any days during the week). It is also of note that mothers of young children employed full-
time in the US undertake a similar range of work schedules to those of men and other women
employed full-time. Second, the job-related differences are pronounced, with the lowest
incidence of 'regular daytime' schedules found among full-time workers in service, operating
and transport jobs. Other data from the same survey enhance the picture of daily schedules
worked by the US workforce. While 85% state they have a 'regular daytime' schedule, in
practice work schedules encroach into the early morning or the end of the day for many. In total
30% of full-timers are at work by 730am, 19% do not usually finish work until after 6pm and
15% can not specify a 'usual' finishing time because their work hours are so variable (US
Bureau of Labor Statistics 2001, derived from table 7). A similar pattern of encroaching work
hours is found in Australia, where one third of the workforce have work patterns that fall
outside daytime hours (6am-6pm) (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 1999).

Table 4 near here

The precise shape of these gender and job-related differences in work schedules vary between
countries, for example in the extent and type of part-time work schedules, long hours working
or shift patterns. The key points here are, firstly, that in every country while men undertake
most of the long working hours and women work shorter hours, both sexes are involved in a
diverse range of work schedules encompassing week-end, evening, night and shift work.

Secondly, that these work schedules are more prevalent in some occupational groups than in
Where there is some diversity in the range of work schedules available within similar types of
employment – for example where nurses can choose between different shift patterns, or where
secretaries can find either part-time or full-time jobs in the labour market – then there are more
options open to the workforce. This can help to increase the labour market integration of groups
with other demands on their time, such as mothers with young children. However, sector and
company studies show that a diverse range of work schedules provides only a limited form of
integration unless accompanied by other measures. For example, Perrons' (1999) comparative
study of retail in Europe showed that part-timers had fewer promotion prospects than those
working standard full-time schedules and that where schedules were subject to unpredictable
changes instigated by the employer than this undermined any 'compatibility' the schedules had
for domestic responsibilities.

2.3 Working-time autonomy and variability
Public debate is increasing about the need for more extensive 'work-family' reconciliation
policies to alleviate the difficulties that many employees face when managing the demands of
their jobs with the time-demands of family responsibilities. This reconciliation is likely to be
facilitated for those workers who have some influence or control over when they work, or, as we
discussed above, what can be termed 'autonomous flexibility'. A number of aspects of working-
time contribute to enhancing workers' autonomous flexibility, including the degree of influence
they have over when they take their annual leave, entitlements to other forms of leave
(maternity, parental, etc.) or working-time adjustments, such as the right to work part-time for a
specified period. Here the focus is upon the particular issue of whether workers are able to
influence their start and finishing times.
Formal flexitime systems are an important mechanism under which workers are able to vary
their start and finish times within agreed time zones around a 'core working hours' period in
which they must be present. A target number of working hours must be achieved with a
predetermined period, but workers are allowed to carry deficits or bank surpluses within certain
ranges. Surplus hours can be used to take full or half days off as 'time off in lieu', although this
is usually conditional on the agreement of supervisors.10 These systems were first introduced in
the 1960s and 1970s and are most widespread among white-collar workers, particularly clerical
and administrative occupations (Bosch 1997). 'Time banking' schemes extend the flexitime
principle to permit hours to vary to a greater degree over a longer settlement period, and while

  For example, the core period might be 10-1600 hours with a two-hour zone either side in which workers are free to
decide when to start and finish. The permitted surplus or deficit might be 20 hours over a four-week period, and
surplus hours can be 'cashed in' for additional half or full days off with the agreement of the supervisor.

many are geared largely to employers' needs as part of annualised hours contracts, some time
banking schemes increase autonomous flexibility for employees. In recent years a number of
such schemes have been negotiated in Europe, particularly in Germany, Italy and Sweden, in a
variety of sectors including metalwork, chemicals and banking (EIROnline 2001). Where
flexitime is absent informal flexible hours arrangements may operate between supervisors and
some workers, for example to retain key workers by accommodating specific family-related
demands. Flexible hours are also a feature of some managerial, professional and craft
occupations, where the incumbents largely self-determine their own start and finish hours in
order to complete their workloads. Both flexitime and informal flexible arrangements are easiest
to implement in jobs where many of the tasks can be completed independently of the working
patterns of other colleagues and where only a small part of the working-time involves being
available for direct contact with customers or other external service users. Finally, the other side
of the coin is whether workers have variable start and finish times that are largely controlled by
their employers' requirements for them to work overtime or variable schedules.
Statistical indicators of flexible working schedules for both the EU countries and the USA
indicate that the differentiation is more pronounced by occupational status, rather than gender
per se (tables 5 and 6). In the EU, 23% of the workforce has some type of formal or informal
arrangement for flexible working hours in which they are able to vary their start and finish times
(table 5). Another one in five (21%) state that they work fixed hours and have some control over
this arrangement. The remaining two thirds have their hours set by their employers, including
11% who work variable hours arrangements. Men are slightly more likely to vary their own
start and finish hours, while women are slightly more likely to work fixed hours set by their
employer. The data for the US are collected using a different question format and so are not
directly comparable, but here 30% of men and 27% of women employed full-time have some
form of flexible schedule, which includes 11% of the full-time workforce with a formal
flexitime programme (table 6). This follows a marked expansion in the incidence of flexible
schedules in the US over the 1990s (Golden 2000). Perhaps surprisingly, in the EU there are
only negligible differences between women full-timers and part-timers in patterns of flexible
schedules at this aggregate level of analysis. However, for the US Golden (2000) has shown that
those who usually work very long full-time hours (50 or more) or part-time hours have more
ability to vary or change their start and finish times than workers with standard full-time hours.
He concludes that US workers can only obtain flexible hours if they opt-out of standard full-
time hours.

Tables 5 and 6 near here

Turning to occupational differences, in the EU, managerial and skilled agricultural workers are
the most likely to work variable hours that they set themselves (Both of these occupations
encompass the majority of the self-employed, but this pattern also holds for employees).
Conversely, those employed in craft, operative or elementary jobs are the most likely to be
working hours that are set by their employers, whether on a fixed or variable basis. The data for
the USA is not directly comparable, but again occupational differences are pronounced, with
flexible schedules being most prevalent among full-timers in managerial and professional
grades, sales and personal services. Both the European and the US data show that once
occupational position is taken into account, the main gender differences is that among
professionals and technical grades - as well as in sales in the United States - women have lower
rates of flexible schedules. This gender difference among professionals is probably associated
with segregated employment positions, whereby more women professionals are in the lower
grades and in health, education and other 'person contact' work in which hours are more tightly
scheduled to meet service requirements, than other professional areas such as IT or engineering.
A recent review by the OECD (2001) concludes that there is less national variation in the
incidence of flexitime than in a number of other 'family-friendly' working-time arrangements in
firms. In general, the highest levels of flexitime are found in Australia11 and the US, exceeding
those found in most EU countries, while in comparison Japan ranks among the lowest.
Furthermore, Bosch (1997) argues that the flexitime arrangements that exist in Japan are
scarcely used because they run counter to establish organisational work cultures in which
absence and lateness are severely penalised (see Takagi 1993); in contrast the flexitime systems
that exist in Europe, North America and Australia are generally widely used and popular with
the workforce. For example, the US may have one of the highest coverage rates for flexitime
systems, but Golden (2000) argues that surveys regularly show that many more of the workforce
would like this arrangement.

3. Working-time preferences and work-family compatibility
In this section we consider men and women's evaluations of their current working-time
arrangements using data on their working-time preferences and their assessments of the 'work-
family' compatibility of their work schedules. This type of information provides an indication of
how people feel about their current working-time arrangements, and provides some insight into
the kind of policy developments that they would like. Of course, such evaluations do not
provide accurate predictions of how people would behave in some future situation, for
competing priorities, constraints and other considerations will also influence labour supply

  In 2000, 38% of all employees reported that they were able to work extra hours to take time off, an increase from
34% in 1993 (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2002).

decisions. In particular, when real wages are falling, or employment is becoming more insecure
people may be less willing to reduce their working hours than in more positive economic
A recent survey of the EU-15 and Norway revealed that nearly two in three employed persons
would prefer to work a different amount of hours to their present arrangement12. Half (51%)
would prefer to reduce their hours, whether traded for lower current earnings or against future
pay rises13. Another 12% would like to work longer hours. The available time series suggest that
the proportion of the European workforce that would like working-time reductions has
increased since the mid-1980s, even in those countries where reductions have been achieved
(Lehndorff 2000). Estimates made by Jacobs and Gerson (2000) suggest a broadly similar
picture for the US, although a slightly higher proportion of the US workforce wants to increase
their hours. They calculate that nearly half of Americans would prefer shorter working hours,
90% of which want to work at least 5 hours fewer a week, while 17% would prefer to work
longer hours. Bell and Freeman (1995) also found that more Americans than Europeans wanted
to work longer hours. They argue that the very dispersed income distribution in the US provides
the financial pressure that drives Americans to work long hours. This is echoed by Bluestone
and Rose's (2000) conclusion that falling real wages in the US means that many families are
'running harder' to maintain their standard of living.
In contrast, the available data suggest that a smaller proportion of the Australian and Japanese
workforces would prefer to adjust their hours although such comparisons must be treated
cautiously since measures of preferences are sensitive to differences in questionnaire design. In
Australia, a government survey in 2000 indicated that 7% of all employees would prefer to
work fewer hours and 21% would prefer more hours (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2002).
However, according to a national survey by the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU),
79% of employees want a limit set on weekly working hours, in the context that many of them
are experiencing increasing workloads and a negative impact of working hours on their family
life (ACTU, 2003). In Japan 25% of employed men and 20% of employed women would like to
reduce their hours of work (including stopping work), while only 7% of employed men and 8%
of employed women would like to work longer hours (including taking on another job).14 In
Japan, as in the US, financial pressures to meet housing costs and maintain purchasing power

   The 1998 'Employment Options Survey' was commissioned by the European Foundation for Living and Working
Conditions and the Norwegian Royal Ministry of Labour. It is a representative survey of 30,000 people aged 16-64
years covering the 15 EU member states and Norway. For further details see the technical report of the fieldwork co-
ordinators (Intratest Burke Sozialforschung 1998), or Fagan (2001a, appendix A.1).
   The analysis was derived from two open-ended questions: 'In total, how many hours per week do you work at
present – on average?' (Question 55) and 'Provided that you (and your partner) could make a free choice so far as
working hours are concerned and taking into account the need to earn a living how many hours per week would you
prefer to work at present?' (Question 56).
   Derived from the Employment Status Survey 2001, table 5, from the Statistics Bureau and Statistics Center, Japan

dampen preferences for working-time reductions, yet at the same time a high proportion of the
Japanese workforce are dissatisfied with the balance of their time between employment and
leisure (Seifert 1994).
The European data show that employed men are even more likely to want to reduce their hours
than are employed women, conversely women are more likely to be under-employed and to
want to increase their hours (table 7). Overall, employed men are slightly more likely to have a
preference to adjust their hours than employed women. This is partly because men are more
likely to be working long hours, as we discuss next. It is also because having young children
increases women's propensity to exit employment and one reason for this is that they have been
unable to obtain working-time arrangements that are compatible with their care responsibilities
(Rubery et al. 1999).

Table 7. near here

Preferences for adjustments to hours are clearly related to current hours of work. Very few full-
timers want to work longer hours, and the proportion that wants to reduce their hours rises with
the number of hours worked. Part-timers, particularly those in short hour jobs (20 or less) are
the most likely to want to work more hours. The under-employment of these part-timers
indicates that many of these jobs are designed primarily to meet employers' requirements rather
than labour supply preferences. The minority of men who work less than 35 hours a week are
even more likely to want to increase their hours than are women with these working hours,
while among those working longer hours women are even more likely to want to reduce their
hours than are men.
The amount of adjustment that most people want to make is substantial, particularly when
considered as a proportion of their current volume of work. Overall, there is a general tendency
to prefer to exit the extremes of very short or very long hours of work and move into the middle
ground of substantial part-time/short full-time hours in the 20-39 hour range. Some employed
men and women who currently occupy this middle ground do want to move, but mainly
switching between short full-time and part-time hours. Similarly in the US and Australia the
preference is to exit the extremes of very short and very long working weeks (Jacobs and
Gerson 2000, Australian Bureau of Statistics 2002).
The net picture in the EU is that on average employed men would prefer a 37-hour week and
employed women a 30-hour week; an average reduction of 6 hours and 3.5 hours respectively
(table 8). The standard deviation indicates that the spread of preferences around this average is

wide for both sexes15, however it is clear that the general picture is that more of the employed
would like to work short full-time or substantial part-time hours than currently do so. On
average, 'job seekers'16 have similar working-time preferences to the employed. If working-time
preferences were realised in the labour market then the average gender, occupational and
national differences in the volume of hours worked would be reduced (Fagan 2001).

Table 8. near here

Multivariate analysis showed that the current volume of hours worked was the most significant
factor influencing working-time preferences in Europe (Fagan 2001). Once hours were
controlled for, then among full-timers men were more likely to want to reduce their hours if
they were a manager, highly educated (well-paid) or approaching retirement. Fatherhood had no
significant influence on working-time preferences. For women full-timers, the significant
circumstances other than the volume of hours were having a young child or being a manager.
Once hours were controlled for, then women working part-time were more likely to want to
increase their hours if they had older or no children to care for, or were in low-income
There is also substantial latent demand among full-timers for working-time reductions through a
move into part-time work in the EU-15 and Norway: 23% of employed women and 19% of
employed men currently work full-time and would prefer to work part-time, as would 38% of all
job seekers. This latent demand for part-time work varied nationally, but is influenced by more
factors than just the current availability of part-time work. For example the demand for
opportunities to work part-time was relatively low both in some countries where this form of
employment is relatively under-developed (e.g. the Southern European countries) and in some
countries where part-time work is already well established (e.g. Sweden). Full-timers wanted to
work part-time in order to have more time for children and other domestic activities, for
personal activities and to reduce the strains of working; in other words reasons similar to those
given by those who do work part-time (see section 2.1 above). Women were more likely to
mention childcare, but so did a large minority of the men. All full-timers, regardless of their
preferences for part-time work, perceived similar barriers to part-time work. The most
commonly mentioned barriers were lack of opportunities for part-time work with their employer
and career penalties, followed by inferior social protection entitlements and financial
considerations (Fagan 2001).

   The standard deviation indicates that approximately two thirds of both populations fall within the range of plus or
minus 10 hours; that is 27-47 hours for employed men and 20-40 hours for employed women.
   These were defined in the survey as all those who were not employed but would like a job now or within five
years. Taken together, the employed plus 'job seekers' encompassed 90% of all working-age men and 80% of all
working-age women in the sample.

Clearly one of the reasons why people may prefer to adjust their working-time is to improve the
fit between the time-demands of their jobs and those associated with family and other
commitments outside of employment. Table 10 explores this question using people's answers in
a European survey17 that asked 'in general, do your working hours fit in with your family or
social commitments outside work very well, fairly well or not at all well?' It should be noted
that when 'satisfaction' questions such as these are asked in surveys they typically produce
positive responses. These positive assessments should not be read simply at face value. More
probing explorations about satisfaction in qualitative studies enable people to make more
considered and nuanced assessments that reveal higher levels of dissatisfaction (e.g. Burchell et
al. 2002). Furthermore, respondents may consider that their work schedule is compatible with
family life because it has been selected strategically in the context of having to arrange
particular forms of childcare, or in relation to other considerations such as the work schedules of
their partners, or because they have curtailed activities to accommodate their work schedules. If
there was a change in their situation or their expectations about what 'compatible' standards are,
for example due to changes in childcare services, then it might be expected that the types of
schedules assessed as 'compatible' would also change. Detailed and qualitative interviews would
be necessary to obtain more considered opinions and to explore what people mean by
'compatibility' and what it is about their hours and other commitments that do or do not produce
this sense of 'compatibility'. Nonetheless, survey data provides some useful indications that have
the advantage of permitting comparisons of the responses associated with various working
conditions and domestic situations.
The more time that is allocated to employment, the less there is available for other activities,
hence full-timers are more likely to judge that their working arrangements a poor fit with other
commitments than are part-timers (table 9). A similar pattern is found when people are asked
about their satisfaction with the time they have for family and leisure pursuits rather than
'compatibility' (Fagan 1996). This sense of incompatibility and dissatisfaction becomes more
pronounced the longer the hours worked for both sexes, although what men and women mean
when they say their hours are incompatible or unsatisfactory is likely to be different and
coloured by the gendered division of care responsibilities in the home.
Table 9. near here

The schedule as well as the volume affects the compatibility of working hours. On one hand,
work schedules that spill into the evening, night and weekends can be considered disruptive to
family life in that they present co-ordination difficulties with the daily schedules of raising
children or creating shared 'family time'. On the other hand, such schedules may offer

     The European Foundation for Living and Working Conditions 'The European Working Conditions Survey –

alternative opportunities for the co-ordination of employment with family life. Men and women
who work at least 35 hours a week are least likely to judge their work schedules to be
compatible if they work long days or weekends on a regular basis, or some weekends in
conjunction with long days, or evenings, nights or rotating shifts (table 9). Conversely, daytime,
weekday work without long days is the most compatible; although the inclusion of some week-
end work or some long days only raises the incompatibility score by a few percentage points.
Higher levels of work intensity also reduce the sense of 'compatibility'. Women who work less
than 35 hours a week are the least likely to report a 'poor fit' for each schedule, demonstrating
that the compatibility of working arrangements depend upon the volume as well as the schedule
of hours.
Variable start and finish times are less compatible than fixed ones, particularly when the
variation is set by the employer; but also when workers vary their own start and finish times.
This seems paradoxical, for when workers have some autonomy to organise their working hours
this might be expected to make their jobs more compatible with other activities. The explanation
is likely to be found in the nature of the job, for this autonomy may be associated with a
managerial or professional job that requires a commitment of long hours and thus the ability to
influence start and finish times may provide insignificant relief from the other working-time
demands of the job. This issue is returned to below.
Some workers do find 'non-standard' schedules to be compatible with their other commitments,
for example one quarter of men and women working rotating shifts report that this fits in very
well with their other commitments. However, this rate of compatibility is much lower than that
reported by non-shiftworkers. So it seems that the working-time elements that contribute to a
greater sense of work-family compatibility are regular, daytime schedules without long days; in
other words the 'standard working week' that has been the benchmark of industrial relations
since the earliest negotiations about regulations. Yet this is in tension with many of the
schedules that are being introduced to provide companies with more flexibility to cover variable
or extended operating requirements.
Multivariate analysis shows that long working hours, 'unsocial' schedules (long days or working
during the evening/night) and high work intensity each have an independent, negative effect on
men's and women's assessment of the degree of compatibility of their working-time
arrangements with their family and social life (Fagan and Burchell 2002). Of these three
dimensions of working-time, working ‘unsocial’ schedules (that involve evenings, nights or
long days) had the most negative impact. Working-time autonomy offers some respite, but this
is relatively weak compared with the negative effect of working unsocial or long hours. Gender

2000', see footnote 6.

and occupational status are insignificant factors once the actual details of working hours and
schedules are taken into account (Fagan and Burchell, 2002). 18

4. Working-time policies to promote gender equality and 'work-life
The preceding analysis has demonstrated the gender differences in working-time patterns in
industrialised countries, particularly in the volume of hours worked, but also in the type of
schedule and the degree of autonomy in relation to these schedules. Yet there are also gender
similarities, for example a shared preference to avoid or exit the extremes of very long or very
short hours of work. Job-related differences are often more pronounced than gender differences,
for example the work schedules of women working in the male-dominated echelons of
management are quite different to those of women in manual jobs. This suggests that particular
working-time arrangements, such as long hours or unpredictable schedules, may contribute to
the process of gender segregation in employment by creating barriers to occupational entry or
progression for those with care responsibilities.
On the basis of this analysis working-time policy must address five related objectives if it is to
contribute to the promotion of gender equality in employment and 'work-life balance' (see
Figure 2). The first objective is to reduce working-time barriers to labour market participation
and so contribute to raising women's employment rate. The second objective is to address any
particular working-time obstacles to women's entry to management and other male-dominated
activities, thus contributing to the reduction of segregation, and particularly vertical segregation.
Both of these objectives are about increasing women's labour market integration, and the third
has a more ambitious vision: to develop working-time arrangements that improve the quality of
the reconciliation of employment and family responsibilities and 'work-life balance' more
broadly. The fourth objective underpins the preceding three, and is concerned with developing
equal treatment between full-time and part-time workers, including opportunities to make
transitions between full-time and part-time hours at different life stages. The final objective
focuses upon adapting men's working-time patterns and increase their time involvement in
parenting and other care activities and hence contribute to reforming the gender division of
labour in households. The rest of this section discusses the policy elements that have the
potential to meet these objectives, which are also summarised in Figure 2.

   As well as having negative effects on the issue of 'work-family' compatibility, working arrangements that involve
long hours, unsocial schedules or intense workloads also increase the incidence of work-related illness, independent
from the effects of other working conditions (Fagan and Burchell, 2002). Australian studies have also shown that
having to work more hours than preferred, and a lack of influence over start and finish times were both independently
associated with higher rates of job-related stress (reported in Evans et al. 2001).

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