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Study: Understanding regional differences in work hours

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The Daily

Monday, January 22, 2007

Workers in the Prairie provinces, as well those in Ontario, put in more working hours on average in 2004 than their counterparts in other regions of Canada, according to a new study focusing on regional differences in work hours.

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The study, based on data from the 2004 Survey of Labour and Income Dynamics, found substantial differences in the patterns of working hours across Canada. The study examined a sample of about 19,500 workers in the prime working-age group of 25 to 54.

Note to readers

This release is based on the research paper "Understanding Regional Differences in Work Hours", available today.

This study uses data from the Survey of Labour and Income Dynamics to examine differences in usual hours worked per worker across six regions of Canada: Atlantic, Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba and Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia.

The Atlantic provinces, as well as Manitoba and Saskatchewan, have been grouped together to provide samples of reasonable size. The study focuses on a sample of about 19,500 paid workers who worked on at least one occasion in 2004.

The number of hours per worker can be defined as the average number of hours worked in a year by all workers aged 25 to 54. The concept of usual hours refers to hours usually worked at all jobs and includes time off due to illness, holidays or slack work.

Please note that the way in which annual working hours is measured in this study differs from the way hours are measured for the purpose of producing estimates of labour productivity at Statistics Canada; this report is based on usual hours worked whereas the productivity estimates use actual hours worked.

Workers in Alberta averaged 1,880 hours a year, the highest in the country. This is the equivalent of 36 hours a week for a full-year worker.

Their counterparts in the combined region of Manitoba–Saskatchewan were close behind with 1,860, followed by workers in Ontario, with 1,850 hours.

In contrast, workers in British Columbia averaged 1,790 hours. Those in the Atlantic region put in 1,780, while workers in Quebec reported the lowest, 1,750 hours.

Regional differences in work hours were larger among male workers in this age group. Employed males in Manitoba–Saskatchewan reported 2,080 hours, while their counterparts in Alberta men worked 2,060 hours. Men in Quebec averaged 1,900 hours, the least.

The study looked at the age group 25 to 54 because these individuals are typically more engaged in the labour market, and may be more likely to share similar preferences in working time.

While differences in working hours between Canada and other nations have generated a substantial body of research, this study shows that working hours can also vary quite widely within a country.

Distribution of annual work hours varied widely from region to region

To better understand regional differences, the study divided working hours into four groups.

Working fewer than 1,500 hours was considered a "short work year". Hours ranging from 1,500 to 1,900 were considered a "low full-time full-year, the equivalent of 29 to 37 hours over 52 weeks. The range of 1,900 to 2,300 was considered a "standard full-time full-year". More than 2,300 hours was defined as a "long work year".

The study found that the distribution of workers across these four intervals varied widely from region to region.

Percentage distribution of workers across categories of annual work hours
  Short year Low full-year and full-time Standard full-year and full-time Long year
Atlantic 26.3 16.5 45.9 11.0
Quebec 22.8 27.6 43.7 6.0
Ontario 18.7 15.9 57.0 8.4
Manitoba–Saskatchewan 21.6 16.0 50.5 11.9
Alberta 21.1 15.1 51.1 12.5
British Columbia 24.9 17.8 47.8 9.6
Note:Data may not add to totals due to rounding.

Working hours were fairly high in Ontario because a substantial proportion of workers had standard full-year and full-time schedules in that province. An estimated 57% of all workers, and more than two-thirds of working men, had a standard full-time, full-year schedule of 1,900 to 2,300 hours.

In contrast, only 44% of workers worked this standard full-time, full-year schedule in Quebec.

Instead, nearly 28% of workers in Quebec had a low full-time, full-year schedule of 1,500 to 1,900 hours, well above the proportion of around 16% in other regions of the country.

Furthermore, the long year schedule of more than 2,300 hours was relatively less common in Quebec, especially among women. Less than 3% of women aged 25 to 54 worked more than 2,300 hours in 2004, half the proportion of women in Ontario who did so.

In fact, Alberta and Manitoba–Saskatchewan displayed the highest percentage of employees (12%) working more than 2,300 hours, which explains why hours were relatively longer in the Prairies.

In the Atlantic region and in British Columbia, low working hours were mostly the result of a larger share of individuals working short years.

For example, more than one-quarter (26%) of workers in Atlantic Canada worked a short year of fewer than 1,500 hours. In this region, nearly one in five men was a short-year worker, compared to 11% to 15% in other regions.

No easy explanation for regional differences

The study investigates possible explanations for these regional differences in work hours. It looked at two sets of factors — those that can be readily measured in household surveys, and those that cannot.

Factors that can be readily measured in household surveys include differences in unionization rates, industrial structure (e.g., the type of industries found in the regions), job characteristics (such as firm size and management responsibilities), and demographic factors (e.g., age, gender, education, marital status and work experience).

Among these, differences in industrial structure and job characteristics accounted to a large extent for the regional differences in the share of workers with short years, as well as one-third to two-thirds of the differences in the share of workers with a standard full-time, full-year schedule.

However, they did not account for much of the regional differences in the share of "long-year" workers. They also did not explain why Quebec had a much larger share of workers with a low full-year and full-time schedule.

This suggests that some of the differences in work hours between regions, including the large differences between Ontario and Quebec, are due to other factors.

Although they cannot be assessed by existing survey data, such factors might include differences in local labour market conditions, tax incentives, labour regulations and preferences.

The research paper "Understanding differences in regional work hours" is now available as part of the Analytical Studies Branch Research Paper Series (11F0019MIE2007293, free) from the Publications module of our website.

Related studies from the Business and Labour Market Analysis Division can be found at Update on Analytical Studies (11-015-XIE, free) on our website.

For more information, or to enquire about the concepts, methods or data quality of this release, contact Sébastien LaRochelle-Côté (613-951-0803), Business and Labour Market Analysis Division.