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In Switzerland, hours of work per person have dropped since 1950, but productivity did not slow down

The five-day work week, an increase in paid leave and the rise of part-time jobs are all factors that have considerably reduced the number of hours people in Switzerland spend working, according to a study by Michael Siegenthaler published in the series Social Change in Switzerland. Siegenthaler's analysis shows that, contrary to popular belief, working people in Switzerland do not work much more on average than people in other industrialised countries. However, this study finds that productivity growth in Switzerland is higher than previous studies suggest, since they lacked chronological data.

In the mid-20th century an economically active person worked almost 2,400 hours per year, on average, whereas the average annual volume of work in 2015 was barely 1,500 hours per person. By taking advantage of records that had not been used until now, the KOF Swiss Economic Institute was able to reconstruct the average numbers of hours worked in the various sectors of the Swiss economy since 1950. This data shows that in agriculture, construction and the hotel and restaurant sectors, it was not unusual to work more than 50 hours per week back then. The number of hours worked per week and per year has since fallen. This is due to fewer business days, more leave and an increase in part-time jobs, explains Michael Siegenthaler in his article " Vom Nachkriegsboom zum Jobwunder – der starke Rückgang der Arbeitszeit in der Schweiz seit 1950" ("From the post-war boom to the employment miracle – the sharp decrease in working hours in Switzerland since 1950").

This study, published in the 9th issue of Social Change in Switzerland, also allows for an international comparison. It shows that Austria and the United States have higher annual working times nowadays, whereas in the 1950s Switzerland far surpassed them in terms of the number of hours worked per active person. What is even more surprising is that the decrease in Switzerland in time spent working has followed the same trajectory as in France and Germany. Our French neighbours enjoy a 35-hour work week, whereas a full-time job in Switzerland is 42 hours. However, this is offset by the fact that 60% of women here work part-time – a practice that is much less common in France.

Finally, the study questions previous claims that Switzerland had seen delayed growth compared with other countries since the 1980s. According to Michael Siegenthaler, the chronological data used up until now was inconsistent in terms of hours worked, which led to the volume of work being overestimated. As a result, the increase in Swiss productivity had been underestimated. In actual fact, productivity growth in Switzerland has remained more or less stable and compares very favourably with large industrialised nations.

>> Michael Siegenthaler (2017). Vom Nachkriegsboom zum Jobwunder – der starke Rückgang der Arbeitszeit in der Schweiz seit 1950 // Du boom de l'après‐guerre au miracle de l'emploi – la forte diminution du temps de travail en Suisse depuis 1950. Social Change in Switzerland No 9. Retrieved from www.socialchangeswitzerland.ch

Contact : Michael Siegenthaler, tel. 044 633 93 67, siegenthaler@kof.ethz.ch

The series Social Change in Switzerland documents the evolution of Switzerland’s social structure. It is edited by the Swiss Centre of Expertise in the Social Sciences FORS, the Life Course and Inequalities Research Centre of the University of Lausanne LINES , and the Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research LIVES – Overcoming Vulnerability: Life Course Perspectives (NCCR LIVES). The aim is to monitor change in employment, family, income, mobility, voting, or gender in Switzerland. Based on cutting edge empirical research, the series targets a wider audience than just academic experts.