In-law Society

8th March, 2008

Dear Economist,
My extended family is very important to me, and I try to make the time to visit them. Unfortunately my husband doesn’t see things the same way. He works very long hours, and says he is tired after work and prefers to stay at home with me. (Actually, he usually watches television.)
Recently, he has been invited to apply for a job that will mean shorter working hours. Should I encourage this? Will he join in more with the social activities that are important to me?
Worried Wife, Cirencester

Dear Worried Wife,

What you seem to be asking is whether shorter working hours encourage social interaction outside the home. It’s a hard question to answer; some studies suggest that people who work long hours spend more time socialising and joining societies or clubs: work hard, play hard, that kind of thing. But that may just be because they are ambitious people with lots of energy and little need for sleep.

There is one study, by economists Henry Saffer and Karine Lamiraud, that might throw some light on your question. They looked at what happened when France reduced the working week from 39 hours to 35. The law came into force in 2000 for companies with more than 20 employees, and in 2002 for smaller businesses and for the civil service, creating a natural experiment for the researchers to study.

Their conclusion: hours of work did indeed fall, but few people used their extra free time either to visit relatives or to join a book club. I am sorry to disappoint you, but my guess is that if your husband wanted to hang out with your mother, he would already be doing so.

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