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How Was Life? Volume II

New Perspectives on Well-being and Global Inequality since 1820

image of How Was Life? Volume II

How was life in 1820, and how has it changed since then? This question, which was at the core of How Was Life? Global Well-being since 1820, published by the OECD in 2014, is addressed by this second volume based on a broader perspective. How Was Life? New Perspectives on Well-being and Global Inequality since 1820, presents new estimates of working hours, biodiversity loss, social spending and GDP (accounting for the 2011 round on purchasing power parities) as well as measures of inequalities in wealth, longevity and educational attainment, gender disparities and extreme poverty. A final chapter synthesises the historical evidence included both in the current and previous volume of How Was Life? through composite measures of the average well-being performance of each country, and of different within-country inequality measures. As was the case for the previous volume, this book combines both a historical and a global perspective, presenting estimates since 1820 for 25 major countries and 8 world regions. While this evidence sometimes relies on partial and limited evidence, each chapter in this book assesses the quality of the data used and identifies areas for further historical research.

This second volume of How Was Life? is the product of collaboration between the OECD and the OECD Development Centre, on one side, and a group of economic historians gathered around the CLIO-INFRA and Maddison projects, on the other. The historical evidence included in the report is organised around dimensions of well-being that mirror those used by the OECD in its report How’s Life?

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The working week in manufacturing since 1820

Despite the substantial implications of working time for considerations of living standards and economic output, historical data on working hours are sparse. This chapter presents a new dataset on the length of the working week in manufacturing globally from 1820-2010 Oisín Gilmore would like to thank Herman de Jong, Rick Veldkamp, Pedro Miguel, the editors of this volume and other participants in the OECD workshops on historical well-being held in Utrecht in September 2018 and in Paris in June 2019. This chapter was supported by the Institut für die Geschichte und Zukunft der Arbeit (IGZA) and the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO).. The dataset contains some 4 300 observations and covers 120 countries or political units. It shows that workers in manufacturing worked 60 to 90 hours per week in the 19th century, compared to around 40 hours today. This is a reduction of 20-50 hours, that is, 50-125% of today’s average working week. The data also show that weekly working hours declined rapidly after World War I, with the introduction of the eight-hour day, and again later in the 20th century, with the generalisation of the five-day week. This decline in weekly working hours stalled since the 1950s-60, and seem to have reversed in the most recent period.

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