University of Strathclyde (Fraser of Allander Institute)

In-work poverty: the role of working hours






November 2019 – November 2020

Grant Awarded



Project summary

Examine changing patterns of working hours to better understand what drives changes, how they affect poverty/inequality and how policy could respond.


The past two decades have seen substantial changes to patterns of hours worked. Men have seen a reduction in average hours worked. But this average trend masks significant changes in the distribution – the number of hours typically worked by men in relatively low-paying jobs has fallen much more significantly than the hours worked by men in relatively well-paying jobs. Women have on average seen an increase in average hours worked, but this trend again hides variation across demographic and socio-economic group.

‘Underemployment’ (the extent to which workers would like to work longer hours but are constrained in their ability to do so) remains higher for those in traditionally low-paying occupations and sectors than in better-paying occupations and sectors.

Taken in combination, changes in patterns of hours worked are having profound effects on rates of in-work poverty and earnings inequality. However, relatively little is known about what is driving these changes in hours worked.

Project overview

The research aims to raise understanding and awareness of the role that changing patterns of working hours play in determining poverty and inequality, and to equip policy makers and business leaders with a more in-depth understanding of the causes of those trends and the ways in which policy can and does influence those trends.

The team will analyse several UK-wide socio-economic surveys; an international comparative analysis reviewing trends and experiences in a selection of comparator countries; and in-depth qualitative research with employers and employees. These three work stages will culminate in a policy appraisal exercise with policy makers and other relevant stakeholders.

In terms of particular policy recommendations the team will look at the current design of the social security system. They will also explore opportunities to help support businesses improve employee engagement and management practices crucially in the area of ‘flexible’ contracts. Finally, thinking beyond ‘tweaks’ to prevailing policy, the team will consider more broadly how more fundamental policy shifts – including the emphasis on employability and skills initiatives (including guidance and jobsearch), support for in-work progression, and the degree of conditionality attached to the benefits system – may influence working patterns.