August 8, 2019
Many aspects of the changing nature of work in the UK are highlighted in a new official report into the number of hours worked in the country. The UK’s ongoing productivity challenges, highlighted by another ONS report last month, are well known, but the new data suggests that a number of common suppositions about the way we work should be challenged, especially those related to demographics, the types of work people do and who does it.
The headline finding of the report is that the total number of hours worked has increased steadily since the 2008 economic downturn, when they dropped off significantly as firms reduced working hours and adopted new working patterns to adapt to the challenges of the recession. However, while the total number of hours worked has increased over the last 11 years, the average number of hours worked has remained broadly the same. Neither of these two trends has had any significant effect on productivity.
The growth in hours worked has been disproportionately driven by workers who are 50 years or older
Notably, the growth in hours worked has been disproportionately driven by workers who are 50 years or older as well as by graduates who are the group that contributed most to the increase in the number of hours worked. A recent analysis of other ONS data also found that the over-50s now make up nearly half of the self-employed in the UK.
The share of hours worked by the over-50s rose from 25 percent in 2008 to 30 percent in 2018. However, report notes that is not entirely a consequence of the ageing population as younger workers also saw a reduction in the number of their jobs shifting the balance towards the older population.
Although the past decade has seen a gradual increase in the number of hours worked by women, men still do more paid work in the UK, around 60 percent of the total. Around 72 percent of women are now in work, although they are significantly more likely to work in part time roles (70 percent).
One significant development is that the recovery in total hours worked from the downturn differs across industries, meaning that there has been a structural shift in the economy since the downturn.
Significantly, while women made a positive contribution to growth in hours worked in every industry, the number of hours worked by men varied by sector, rising in information and communications, for example, while falling back in traditionally male dominated sectors such as agriculture, forestry and fishing, mining and quarrying, electricity, gas, steam and air conditioning supply, water supply and sewerage, waste management and remediation activities.
The report also makes a comparison with the composition of the labour markets in France, Spain and Germany, highlighting the notably close similarities between France and the UK.