The polarisation of working hours in Ireland

The polarisation of working hours in Ireland



Rory O'Farrell


There is evidence of polarisation in the literature, a polarisation between the economics and sociological literature. On the one hand the economics literature has largely ignored patterns of declining working hours for low paid workers. Though the economics literature has given attention to topics such as polarisation in the labour market, and differences in working hours across countries and over time, these two topics have not been combined.  In contrast this subject has been the topic of much research in the sociological literature. The aim of this paper is to examine changes in hours worked in Ireland from 1992 up to the present. Similar to other countries, Ireland has shown a decline in the average working hours of sales and service workers, even though this occurred at a time of growth in the labour market. In contrast hours worked by clerical staff have shown far smaller declines, despite decreases in the share in employment of clerical staff.

A number of hypotheses are explored for why this occurred. One hypothesis is that an increase in labour participation by women, who are more likely to work part-time, may have led to a fall in average working hours. However, this fails to explain why average working hours for male workers also declined. The paper also explores cross sectoral patterns. Though average weekly hours have declined in sectors associated with low pay (such as hotel and food sector, and retail and wholesale), low paid workers in other sectors (such as manufacturing) have not seen a decline in average weekly work hours. During the boom period some trends in Ireland have been quite different to those in other countries. From 1992 to 2002 wage growth was highest for those at the bottom of the wage distribution, a pattern quite different to other countries. Such differences with other countries may be due to the unsustainable property boom. However, there is no evidence that the boom has delayed a decrease in the working week. In fact the long term decline in working hours has stabilised during the boom. Also, the evidence does not support the hypothesis that average working hours declined due to greater participation from women, or a change in sectoral composition. Most of the change has been within sectors, genders, and occupations.

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