People in an office
Researchers say the best-educated people are working longer hours than their less-educated counterparts – in contrast to the situation 50 years ago.
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The rich best-educated revealed as 'super-working class'

Rich, well-educated men and women are working much longer hours than those on low incomes, according to a new working paper by the Centre for Time Use Research (CTUR) at the University of Oxford.

The researchers from the Department of Sociology based their findings on the time diaries of men and women from 16 developed countries from 1961 to the present, collected as the Multinational Time Use Study (MTUS). Compared to the 1970s when working hours were at their lowest,  the best-educated men in continental Europe, for example, increased their overall work time from just over 8 hours 20 minutes per day (around 5 hours 50 minutes' paid work and 2 hours 30 minutes' unpaid housework, shopping and childcare) to 9 hours 10 minutes per day (6 hours 10 minutes' paid, 3 hours unpaid) – an increase of 20 minutes' paid work, together with 30 minutes more unpaid work.

The study says the best-educated men used to work much shorter hours for pay – an echo still, in the 1960s, of the end-of-the-19th-century leisure class. However, by the beginning of the 21st century they were working the longest hours, with the best-educated women appearing to show an even starker increase in working hours as compared with similarly educated women 50 years ago.

Although in the past the least educated used to work the longest hours, this data turns that idea on its head. Replacing the 19th-century leisure class is a 21st-century 'superordinate working class', says the paper by Professor Jonathan Gershuny and Dr Kimberly Fisher.

Professor Gershuny said: 'Our research, which compares the paid and unpaid working hours of people of different social backgrounds in developed economies over the last 50 years, suggests that the best educated are working harder now than they did in the 1960s. This could be because high-fliers do not see leisure time as preferable to the office. The shift away from manual labour may mean that a larger proportion of workers may now find their jobs more satisfying, emotionally and intellectually. But the generally lower paid work hours in Scandinavia and continental Europe suggest that a lack of governmental regulation of work time also plays its part.'

In most of the countries surveyed, men's and women's total work hours per day are the same to within a few minutes when paid and unpaid are combined. However, the data suggests women still do the lion's share of the domestic chores and childcare across all countries. The highly educated Nordic men are the most likely to share housework and childcare duties with their partners, but eventhey do just 45% of unpaid work, still leaving the majority to be done by women.

This month the CTUR started work on a €2.5 million European Research Council Advanced Grant awarded to Professor Gershuny for research on the sociology and economics of everyday life, and a new £4.1 million ESRC grant provided to support the MTUS and to collect a new UK national time-use study – the first since 2005.