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Productivity: Working Weekends

Jul 12, 2011 • Businesses, Demand, Supply, and Markets, Developing Economies, Economic Debates, Economic History, Financial Markets, Households, International Trade and Finance, Macroeconomic Measurement, Regulation, Thinking Economically • 175 Views    No Comments

Israel has to decide when to have a weekend. The Israeli Sabbath, Friday sunset through Saturday sunset will be a part of it. The second day? Sunday and Friday are possibilities. Knowing that productivity is a major consideration, Israel’s prime minister asked an economist to chair the “weekend” committee.

Selecting Sunday means a day to shop, go to the beach, and enjoy leisure activities from which the GDP would benefit. Also though, the weekend would last 2 1/2 days because work closes down at noon on Friday to prepare for the Sabbath. To compensate, the plan’s advocates suggest a longer 4-day workweek.

Looking beyond Israel, the West takes Saturday and Sunday off. Jordan used to call Thursday and Friday their weekend but now, like Egypt, they observe Friday and Saturday. For Christians, Sunday is significant, to Jews, it is Saturday, and with Muslims, the day is Friday. From a religious perspective, that means the weekend could be one of 4 2-day pairs.

The Economic Lesson

The 5-day work week dates back to the 1920s when Henry Ford became one of the first U.S. employers to implement it. 5 days became viable only after work hours declined from a 60 to 70 hour average during the 19th century to 50 hours by the 1920s.

To see the history of work hours and the workweek in the U.S., this article by Wake Forest econ professor Robert Whaples is excellent. Citing demand and supply, productivity and economic growth, Whaples concludes his article with the economics of the work week. In 1900, for example, we had to work much longer than now to earn enough for our necessities. In 1918, we had to work close to 1 hour to pay for a dozen eggs; now, we just need a few minutes. (p.114 from The Price of Everything)

An Economic Question: Would you agree that a shorter workweek can fuel economic growth? Explain.

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