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May 2009, Vol. 132, No. 5
International comparisons of hours worked: an assessment of the statistics
Susan E. Fleck
Public commentators, the press, and governments are interested in the hours people work. Work hours underpin productivity measures. The number of hours individuals work stimulates debate on the quality of life in an international context: do some societies live to work while others work to live? The differences in hours worked between countries fuels discussion of economic growth, employment, and unemployment. Any comparative measure between countries, however, depends on a standardization of concepts, sources, and methods. Measuring and comparing how many hours people spend at work across countries is not an exact science, despite recent improvements in methodology and data coverage.
The recommendation from the International Labor Organization (ILO) is to use actual hours worked, including annual hours actually worked, as the basis for international comparisons. The recommendation to include annual hours actually worked was part of an updated ILO resolution regarding the measurement of working time that was adopted at the International Conference of Labor Statisticians held in the fall of 2008. Background research on working time and hours worked carried out by international statistical organizations and national statistical agencies to prepare for the conference has contributed to a rich debate on hours worked.
This excerpt is from an article published in the May 2009 issue of the Monthly Labor Review. The full text of the article is available in Adobe Acrobat's Portable Document Format (PDF). See How to view a PDF file for more information.
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