Americans’ 67-hour rule on work has stayed the same for 140 years

Rashmee Roshan Lall
2 min readMay 17, 2024
John Rogers Cox painted Gray and Gold shortly after the US joined the Second World War and its thought to symbolise the dark overtones of a time when fascism was spreading in Europe and Asia, even as America’s farm-oriented economy was changing

We owe Atlantic staff writer Derek Thompson a debt of gratitude for this unusual and telling statistic: the typical American married couple averaged 67 hours of weekly paid labour in 2020, which was the same as in 1965 and, astonishingly, almost the same as in the 1880s!

In the 1880s, Mr Thompson wrote in a recent ‘Work in Progress’ newsletter, “when men worked long days and women were mostly cut off from the workforce, the typical American married couple averaged just over 68 hours of weekly paid labor”. So, not that different from the 67-hour average.

Extraordinary isn’t it to think that for nearly 150 years, the time spent working by a husband and wife in America has remained pretty much the same?

Mr Thompson’s quoted figures come from two papers. The Great Transition by economists Jeremy Greenwood, Ricardo Marto and Nezih Guner, who cover labour-market changes since 1880. And Measuring Trends in Leisure by economists Mark Aguiar and Erik Hurst, who look at the situation from 1965 to 2003. While he acknowledges there may be some quibbling about the exact numbers and what they really say, it’s still pretty extraordinary that despite massive economic change — from farming to manufacturing and then away from both of these sectors — the number of hours worked by a married American couple has remained the same for 140 years.

But the reason for the so-called “67-Hour Rule” is simple: Women are working more outside the home and men are working less.

One of the more remarkable statistics quoted by Mr Thompson is the amount of time it took for an American woman in 1900 to do the housework. Typically, he writes, she “put in a full 60-hour week at home, where basic upkeep was grueling by modern standards. Washing, drying, and ironing one load of laundry took up to seven hours; almost a full day’s work… One study of women in rural areas without electricity in the 1940s found that hand-washing and ironing a 38-pound laundry load required taking about 6,300 steps around the house, the well, the stove, and back to the house. After nine such loads, a woman would have walked the equivalent of a marathon. The electrification of housework reduced the ambulatory burden of that same laundry load by 90 percent.”

And yet the actual number of hours put in by the average American couple has remained the same.

It’s mostly as one economist explained to Mr Thompson, a reflection of “rising costs and rising expectations”.

I suppose that says it all really.

Originally published at



Rashmee Roshan Lall

PhD. Journalism by trade & inclination. Writer. My novel 'Pomegranate Peace' is about my year in Afghanistan. I teach journalism at university in London