Increases in leisure time have stalled since the 1980s, says NEF

By agency reporter
September 15, 2019

Since the 1980s, productivity increases have translated into far slower gains in leisure time for workers, according to new analysis from the New Economics Foundation (NEF). The failure to give workers shorter working hours has not been compensated with higher wages, which have broadly tracked productivity increases and flatlined since the financial crisis a decade ago.

As part of a new project due to report later in the autumn, NEF has been studying the decades’ long relationship between productivity, wages and leisure time. This analysis represents a contribution to the growing evidence base that the economy is productive enough to sustain a move towards a world of less work.

The analysis shows that during the decades up to the 1970s, a constant rate of increase in productivity has been associated with equally consistent increases in both earnings and leisure time. But since the 1980s, increases in leisure time peel off into comparative stagnation without a faster increases in earnings to compensate.

If the pre-1980 trend in increased leisure time had continued, workers would now be working 13 per cent or half a day less than they do today. This would be roughly in line with equivalent annual working hours in Germany. If the same trend were to continue further, the UK would be on track to work 20 per cent less by 2040 – in other words, the equivalent of a 30-hour or a four-day working week.

If the pre-1980s trend had continued, the UK would be on course to reach the equivalent of a 30 hour week by 2040.

Aidan Harper, Researcher at the New Economics Foundation, said: “Throughout the history of industrial relations, workers have fought for and won increased pay, better conditions and shorter hours through unions. But the balance of power has shifted significantly since the early 1980s and we are spending more time at work as a result.

“We know that we have been living in an economy which has grown substantially over the past 40 years, yet reductions in working time have stalled. The same pattern has not been repeated in countries where workers and trade unions have retained more of their rights. Today we’re publishing new analysis demonstrating the decoupling of productivity from leisure time in the UK.

“Behind this economic case is a story of historical injustice. We are pleased to be part of a growing movement of voices building a new politics of time to ensure that workers can take back the time they are owed."

* New Economics Foundation


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