The average American works more hours than a medieval peasant

Think you’re working less than peasants did way back in the medieval ages? Although jobs have changed significantly since then, chances are, you’re probably wrong.

Photo: pixelsniper via Flickr

Think you’re working less than peasants did way back in the medieval ages? Although jobs have changed significantly since then, chances are, you’re probably wrong.


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Research from Juliet Schor, currently a Professor of Sociology at Boston College, from her text The Overworked American: The Unexpected Decline of Leisure, shows this isn’t the case. The average American worker in 1987 was working about 1,949 hours annually, while an adult male peasant in 13th-century U.K. racked up approximately 1620 yearly. Schor provides details in the text about how working hours have changed over centuries, and why.

You might be thinking, “that’s nice and all, but it isn’t the ’80s anymore — how are we doing in the 21st century?”

Well, the average American employee now reportedly works slightly less at 1,811 hours annually, based on information from a Pew analysis of 2015 Labor Department data — the most recent data available.


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How workers hours stand up against the past

So, how do the hours stack up across various generations and time periods in history — both in the U.S. and the U.K.? While each group had its own estimated methodology, here’s the amount of working hours various groups listed in the research had, from least to most:

  • Casual laborer, U.K. (14th century): 1,440 hours
  • Adult male peasant, U.K. (13th century): 1,620 hours
  • Average worker, U.S. (2015): 1,811 hours
  • Manufacturing workers, U.K. (1988): 1856 hours
  • Average worker, U.S. (1987): 1,949 hours
  • Farmer-miner, adult male, U.K. (1400-1600): 1,980 hours
  • English worker (Middle Ages): 2,309 hours

Jane Burnett|is a reporter for Ladders and can be reached at jburnett@theladders.com.