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December 2010, Vol. 133, No. 12
Bringing work home: implications for BLS productivity measures
Lucy P. Eldridge and Sabrina Wulff Pabilonia
Lucy P. Eldridge is a senior economist in the Office of Productivity and Technology, Bureau of Labor Statistics. Sabrina Wulff Pabilonia is a research economist in the same office. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
About 8 percent of nonfarm business employees bring some work home, mostly to finish or catch up on their work; those who bring work home work more hours per week, on average, than those who work only at the workplace, but there is no evidence that this difference leads to an overstatement in measures of productivity growth.
Advances in information technology have created new opportunities for workers to perform their jobs away from their traditional workplaces. One implication of this change—and the subject of an ongoing debate surrounding U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS, the Bureau) productivity data—is that official estimates of productivity growth may be overstated because estimates of hours worked may not include unpaid hours worked at home. To shed light on this debate, this article examines two recent sources of data on U.S. workers who bring work home from their primary workplace: the 2003–08 American Time Use Survey (ATUS) and the 1997, 2001, and 2004 May Current Population Survey (CPS) Work Schedules and Work at Home Supplement (CPS Supplement). The ATUS provides detailed information on time spent on work, work-related activities, and nonwork activities during a single day, as well as information on the locations of these activities. The CPS Supplement provides information on the number of hours worked at home each week, information on whether or not workers had a formal arrangement to be paid for work at home, and reasons for working at home.
Recent research on work at home has focused almost entirely on paid work done by those who have a formal arrangement to work at home. However, two papers published within the last 10 years have examined unpaid work at home. Using the May 2001 CPS Work Schedules and Work at Home Supplement, Younghwan Song examined the determinants of unpaid work at home for full-time wage and salary workers in the nonagricultural sector.1 He found that unpaid work at home is positively related to education, the absence of overtime rates, being a team leader, efficiency wages, and greater earnings inequality within occupation groups. Song attributed workers’ willingness to take on this additional unpaid work as an investment in their careers and future wage growth. In another study, Paul Callister and Sylvia Dixon used the 1999 New Zealand Time Use Survey and found that bringing work home was much more common than working exclusively from home.2 The majority of work at home lasted for less than 2 hours per day, and a significant proportion was done in the evenings after work and on weekends.
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2 Paul Callister and Sylvia Dixon, “New Zealanders’ Working Time and Home Work Patterns: Evidence from the Time Use Survey,” New Zealand Department of Labour Occasional Paper No. 5, Aug. 1, 2001.
American Time Use Survey
Current Population Survey
Labor Productivity and Costs
Wage differentials associated with working at home.—Mar. 2007.
Home-based workers: data from the 1990 Census of Population.—Nov. 1996.
Work at home: data from the CPS.—Feb. 1994.
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