What is actually happening to hours of work? An article by US economist Juliet Schor, in the book Time on our Side published by the New Economics Foundation, provides the answer. Schor gathered data on hours of work over the last 60 years from seven developed countries:
Thus, average weekly working hours per worker vary substantially, and working hours have fallen substantially in all seven countries since 1950.
The data on productivity ((the amount of economic output per hour worked) is also fascinating. Since 1950, productivity has grown significantly in all the countries. The benefits of productivity increases can show up in working hour reductions (or, alternatively, in wage increases, price reductions or profit increases). But the countries have taken a highly varying proportion of their productivity gains in the form of reduced working hours:
Further, the countries whose working hours have decreased more consistently have a higher percentage of their productivity gain taken as a decrease in working hours.
So, a reduction in current working hours would continue, rather than reverse, the current trend. And the variation in productivity gain taken as working hour reduction between countries demonstrates that doing so is a political, rather than economic, choice.