A new paper recently published in the journal Economics & Human Biology has found that reducing the number of hours spent at work can improve a variety of workers’ health indicators, such as smoking levels and body-mass index (BMI).
More specifically, the research team has found that shortening the workweek by four hours leads to a 19% to 24% decrease in smoking among blue-collar workers, and a 1.7% to 2.1% reduction in BMI among white-collar workers.
Shorter workweeks could improves workers’ health on multiple measures. Image: pxhere.com, CC0 Public Domain
“The key implication of these results is that policies that reduce working time, such as shortening the statutory workweek, could lead to important health benefits,” said co-author Inés Berniell, an economist at the Universidad Nacional de La Plata, Argentina.
Berniell, together with a Swedish researcher Jan Bietenbeck, used data from a unique survey of workers conducted in 1998 when the socialist government of France cut the length of the workweek from 39 to 35 hours without any change to workers’ pay, and again in 2002 when the reform was fully implemented.
This allowed the researchers to compare the same people before and after the change, and to more closely approximate the effect of shorter working hours, because, in most other cases, reductions in working hours typically lead to reduced incomes, which can have a large effect on health on their own.
Interestingly, the study also found that a shorter workweek did not lead to a reduction in smoking among white-collar workers, and may have even increased BMI among blue-collar workers.
According to Berniell, this latter pattern could be explained by white-collar workers using some of their additional free time to exercise, which leads to weight-loss, whereas blue-collar workers, who burn more calories on the job, may have failed to adjust their food intake to the reduced number of hours spent at work.
To make the results more accurate, the researchers excluded all managers, part-time workers, and even women from the main sample (but not from the robustness check). Women were excluded because they tend to work part-time more often and were thereby less likely to experience any meaningful benefits from the reform.
These findings are part of a growing body of evidence for the variety of benefits associated with a shorter workweek, which could eventually lead to substantial changes to our daily working lives.