News accounts of the last few years have depicted the evolution of the man in the gray flannel suit into the...


THE OVERWORKED AMERICAN: The Unexpected Decline of Leisure

News accounts of the last few years have depicted the evolution of the man in the gray flannel suit into the 80-hour-per-week yuppie, and of Superwoman into a bundle of frayed nerves who finds she really can't have it all. Yet according to Schor (Economics/Harvard), her own cogent analysis of our society's ""time poverty"" is the first of its kind. Since 1948, the author reports, productivity for each US worker has more than doubled, yet work-hours have risen so sharply for the average American that, if present trends continue, hours on the job will match the level of the 1920's. In Schor's telling, workers are pulled by centrifugal forces all but mandating longer hours: exploding consumer debt, upgraded household standards, a labor-union movement that abandoned the struggle for shorter hours 50 years ago, and, above all, companies that find it advantageous to make time slaves of workers through fixed annual wages, overtime, and fringe benefits. Like many an economist, Schor apparently has never met a statistic she hasn't liked, even if its relevance is questionable (e.g., her comparing of present-day conditions with those of the preindustrial age). However, she scores telling points in noting that US manufacturing employees work 320 more hours per year than their German or French counterparts, in observing that longer hours are coinciding with high unemployment, and in puncturing the myth that Japanese workers' long hours give them a competitive leg up. Schor's proposals--standard schedules for every salaried job, payment for back time with time rather than money, pro-rationing of fringe benefits for part-time workers, government-mandated three-week paid vacations for all employees--seem worth consideration, if beyond legislative possibility at this point. A trenchant examination of why Americans find themselves in the ""squirrel cage"" of overwork.

Pub Date: Jan. 6, 1992


Page Count: 256

Publisher: Basic Books

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1991