Our modern work week is relatively recent. It only became 8 hours a day, 5 days a week in the late 1930s. The progression to a 40 hour week is instruc

How the workweek changed in the early 20th century

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2023-01-24 05:00:07

Our modern work week is relatively recent. It only became 8 hours a day, 5 days a week in the late 1930s. The progression to a 40 hour week is instructive because it represented a step change in both productivity for workers and for the types of work that were getting done. As we’ll see, this step change seems to emulate the step change happening among professional workers today.

By the late 19th century, most work was starting to evolve from strictly agrarian day labor to factory work operating in shifts. Factories could produce goods fast, could pay a reliable wage, and were less subject to the whims of the consumer and the weather.

For folks on the margins, it made sense to “move to the city” and get a factory job rather than operating a small farm. Even productive small farms faced pressure from consolidated and larger farms, which were more efficient on a per-dollar basis and employed fewer people.

Other industries, like construction, took the advantages of improved tooling and technique and increased total productivity, without significantly changing workforce participation (as a percentage) because the demand for such services increased correspondingly.

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