Opinion or evidence? Are working hours getting longer?

Pic by JitterBuffer

Over the Antipodean summer Genuine Evaluation goes to the beach instead of blogging.  We’re back now, brushing off the sand, and planning more discussions about what it means to do genuine evaluation, plus sharing some insights from the African evaluation conference in Accra, Ghana.

To start the year, we wanted to highlight one of the more disturbing aspects of public policy discussions in recent years  –  the tendency to put forward opinions as if they were as compelling as solid evidence. We suspect that this will be the first in an ongoing series of examples.

Are working hours getting longer? Hopefully this example reflects someone being misquoted in the article in The Age in Melbourne, rather than how it appears – a researcher suggesting it’s too hard to get reasonable estimates of the extent of a problem and then pronouncing that the problem has diminished:

Some recent studies suggest this may now be a relic of history and that Australians work the longest hours in the developed world.

But Professor Mark Wooden, of the Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research, disagrees … strongly.

“The idea we work the most hours in the world is absolute crap,” he says.

“Lots of people work long hours and lots of people work short hours. We have a mix.”

He argues that workers in Japan and Korea work longer than Australians and that comparing working hours between countries was an inexact science.

People tend to overestimate how long they work as a sort of “badge of courage” and find it difficult to estimate the hours they work accurately, Professor Wooden says.

“I don’t think we can count,” he says. “It’s impossible to know. The study would need to be so invasive.”

His research shows the number of Australians working 50 hours a week or more peaked in the mid-1990s.

“Over the last 10 years, the proportion of Australians working long hours has been dropping.”

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