40 Hour Workweeks Are Bullshit

Tyler Kirkpatrick
5 min readNov 20, 2021
Photo by LYCS Architecture on Unsplash

We are told the 40-hour workweek gives us more time to rest and partake in leisure. But after spending about a decade in the cushiony office world, not all those hours are productive. Not even close.

Is the 40-hour workweek an oppressive system designed to keep the masses from being able to climb the corporate ladder? Or is it a blessing that we’ve all taken for granted?

What I Found

In the 1800s, many Americans worked over 70 hours per week, but we can only rely on estimates. Most Americans worked in agriculture before the last decades of the nineteenth century, and many of them were self-employed, leaving no incentive to track hours. The seasonality of agricultural labor meant more “free time” in winter months and intense “dawn-till-dusk” days during harvest and planting seasons.

But as more laborers moved into industrialized cities in the late 1800s, Margo estimated that annual hours of work rose by ten percent per laborer over the nineteenth century.

In 1890, “The average workweek for full-time manufacturing employees was a whopping 100 hours.” However, a few reports have been found citing an average of 60 hours workweeks during the same period. Since these reports are merely small samples that just happened to be the few relevant records that survived, it is generally believed…



Tyler Kirkpatrick

I write about politics, money, and my crippling video game addiction. Email: tkirkpatrick@smu.edu