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Study: Hours polarization revisited

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The Daily

Tuesday, March 18, 2008
1997 to 2006 

Fewer full-time Canadian workers are putting in long hours on the job, but the decline has occurred mostly among men and older workers, according to a new study.

The study, published today in Perspectives on Labour and Income, showed that in 2006, full-time workers put in 40.8 hours on the job on average, down from 41.5 hours in 1997.

The decline in overall usual hours worked continues the downward trend seen between 1976 and 1996 during which the average workweek slipped by 1.6 hours. The bulk of that 20-year decline was due mostly to a growth in part-time employment, that is, jobs of under 30 hours a week.

Between 1997 and 2006, the average number of working hours continued to fall even though more full-time workers entered the labour market. The study, based on Labour Force Survey data, found that the decline during this decade was the result of shifts in the distribution of hours during the workweek.

More people were putting in a workweek of between 30 and 48 hours, especially 30 to 40 hours, as fewer people were working very long hours (49 or more) or very short hours (under 15).

The study also found that not only are women more likely to be employed now, their workweek has also increased. In 2006, women worked an average of 33.1 hours a week, up 0.6 hours from 1997. During this period, women shifted from working short- or part-time hours to working 30 to 40 hours.

On the other hand, the workweek for men declined. Instead of working extremely long or extremely short shifts, they have been opting toward 15 to 48 hours. In 1997, about 16.7% of men of all ages worked 49 hours or more; by 2006, this proportion had declined to 13.8%.

Older workers also had a shift away from working very long hours and the largest growth in working between 15 and 39 hours. This brought their standard workweek down 0.5 hours to 36.3 in 2006.

Canada's strong labour market in the last 10 years also influenced the length of the workweek. It attracted more women, mothers with dependent children, youth and older workers into the labour force — groups that generally prefer varied hours.

The shift toward service-related jobs in the last decade also had a big impact on average hours. The service-producing sector accounted for 76% of employment in 2006, and 85% of all new jobs since 1997. Workers in this sector tend to work short or standard hours, whereas those in the goods-producing sector tend to work standard to long hours.

Workers with postsecondary education were also less likely to be working long schedules than they were 10 years earlier, especially men with a university education. Whereas 27.1% of men with a university degree worked 41 hours or more in 1997, only 21.5% did so in 2006.

The study found that Quebec workers, part- and full-time combined, had the shortest average workweek among the provinces in 2006, at 35.5 hours. This was down 0.8 hours from 1997, which was the biggest decline among the provinces. The national average was 36.5 hours.

In Newfoundland and Labrador, workers put in 38.9 hours a week on average in 2006, up almost one hour from 1997 and the highest average in the country.

Definitions, data sources and methods: survey number 3701.

The article "Hours polarization revisited" is now available in the March 2008 online edition of Perspectives on Labour and Income, vol. 9, no. 3 (75-001-XWE, free), from the Publications module of our website.

For more information, or to enquire about the concepts, methods or data quality of this article, contact Jeannine Usalcas (613-951-4720;, Labour Statistics Division.