With how man working hours are people happy?

by Martin Schröder

How many hours should people work?

I am pretty sure you, and everyone you know, has asked that question. Using data from the German Socio-Economic Panel, I can actually show with how many working hours people are most satisfied on average. And the results are pretty strange. In short, while mothers can be satisfied with their life while working long or short hours, fathers become unsatisfied with their life when they work shorter hours.

You can check out the results in this graph, which shows how the life satisfaction of each group is related to working hours.


To put this differently, fathers – and to a lesser degree childless men and women, are most satisfied with life when working full time hours or more. In contrast, hours in employment hardly affect the life satisfaction of mothers. The rational maximization of income as postulated by family economics cannot explain these results, as they are even found in household where women earn more than men. Because the results are also found among those with secure jobs and very little household work and childcare duties, they also contradict the predictions by expansionist role theory that men and women are better off in egalitarian employment arrangements. The results change little with time, cohorts and educational groups. Except for childless women, they therefore fit best with the predictions of traditional role theory, which suggests that people are most satisfied when adhering to stereotypical gender roles.

Now, if you ask me, I am puzzled as to how this can come about. I thought we live in a world by now where men and women – and especially fathers and mothers profit equally from an immersion into working life. Alas, the data seems to contradict this.

Here is a link to the article (sadly, behind a paywall).