Long Work Hours, Gender, and Inequality

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We commonly hear about the 40-hour work week. But, that adage does not really do justice for most people. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the average American works 47 hours a week, with many logging 50 hours or more. 

As time is a zero-sum game, people make trade-offs between how long they spend at work and that that devoted to other parts of their lives. The potential friction between the two is what researchers call work-life balance. 

Recently, Irene Padavic, of Florida State University, and her colleagues examined these topics and how they contributed to gender inequality in the workplace. 

They collected interview data from over 100 consultants and 5 human resource professionals at a global consulting firm. 

The researchers found that conflicts between long hours at work and women’s family obligations contributed to their under-representation in top leadership positions.  

Importantly, both women and men experience work-life conflict; yet, men still advance. Why is this the case? The answer could rest in organizational policies, such as flex time, that presumably help promote better work-life balance among employees. 

The researchers found that even though flexible work policies exist, the women who use them face backlash and stigma. Instead, the norm is a 24/7 work culture. The end result is a work ethos that privileges men and those who have traditionally held power. And, of course, the stalled advancement of women.

One approach to addressing the issue is to de-stigmatize the use of flexible time at work. But, this seems unlikely to gain much traction. 

Instead, the researchers advocated for better work conditions and hours for all people. Doing so would mean that all can achieve a better balance between their work and life, and in doing so, realize better performance, physical health, and psychological well-being.