Fraser of Allander Institute

Department of EconomicsFraser of Allander Institute (FAI)

Changing patterns of hours of work: drivers, implications and policy responses

  • “In debates about poverty and inequality, we hear a lot about hourly pay and about the employment rate. But changing patterns of working hours have been at least as important in shaping the distribution of income across households, and in underpinning the rise in in-work poverty.

    We’re looking forward to working with Standard Life to better understand what explains the key trends in working hours witnessed in the last 20 years, and to explore what role policy can play in shaping these trends or mitigating their impact.”

    Professor Graeme Roy
    Director of the Fraser of Allander Institute

The Fraser of Allander Institute together with the Scottish Centre for Employment Research have been awarded funding from the Standard Life Foundation to examine changing patterns of working hours and implications for poverty and inequality.

During the past two decades there have been substantial changes in the patterns of hours worked in the UK. But the trends have played out very differently across different groups and job-types in the labour market.

Falls in hours worked have been much more pronounced in some job types than in others, and the trends also differ substantially between men and women and by level of education.

At the same time, rising underemployment (a desire to work longer hours) has been particularly concentrated in certain occupations and industries.

These trends have major implications for inequality and poverty. For example, declining working hours in some low paid jobs is a major driver of increased in-work poverty.

But relatively little is known about what drives the trends. For example, what is the role of changing industrial structures, household formation patterns, and policies for the labour market or social security in driving the trends? And without that knowledge, it is difficult to know what role policy can play in influencing the trends or mitigating the effects.

This year-long project has three main objectives. First, it will examine trends in working hours and underemployment in more detail. Second, it will assess the role that different factors have played in driving these trends. And third, it will assess whether there is a role for policy in influencing patterns of working hours or in mitigating the effects of changing working patterns on the distribution of incomes.

The project will involve a mixture of quantitative analysis of major UK datasets, qualitative analysis with workers and employers, and consultation with policy-makers.

Results will be disseminated periodically via this website and the Fraser of Allander blog, before links to more formal dissemination events and reports are made available later in 2020.

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