The Associations Between Working Tome and Subjective Well-being: Evidence From Scandinavia

Christine Koen Solli & Josephine Holmgren

Student thesis: Master thesis


Recently we have witnessed a widespread popular interest in exploring the potential benefits of adjustments to the current standard of full-time work, particularly in Scandinavia. However, there is yet no clear consensus in the relationship between working time and well-being. Furthermore, policy makers have come to acknowledge the need for alternative welfare indicators to GDP for policy decisions – such as measures of subjective well-being. On this basis, the primary purpose of this study has been to answer the following two research questions: (1) What are the associations between usual working hours and subjective well-being? (2) What are the associations between match/mismatch of usual working hours and preferred hours and subjective well-being? The motivation for the latter research question is that recent findings from outside Scandinavia have indicated that there might not be the length of the workweek per se that is of importance for well-being, but instead whether there exists a fit between an individual’s actual working hours and preferred working hours. On the basis of this, our study also draws conclusions on whether such a statement holds in a Scandinavian setting, by partially replicating research from the UK and Australia. In investigating the research questions, we have built and tested hypotheses based upon economic theory. The associations between subjective well-being and working time were estimated by robust OLS methods, using representative cross-sectional data for the Scandinavian working population from 2010 obtained from the European Social Survey. The regression analysis consists of a main and complementary analysis, where the main analysis was conducted for men and women separately, whereas the complementary analysis investigated on a range of different subgroups for the female population. All the investigated associations were in reference to standard full-time work. Overall, the results suggest that part-time work is positively associated with subjective well-being for women, whereas subjective well-being for men is positively associated with working hours slightly below full-time, as well as working hours above standard full-time. However, the associations for the full female sample do not always, and in many cases not, hold once splitting the sample into different subgroups. Thus, the combined findings suggest that there does not exist any ‘one size fits all’ concerning working time. Our main results support the theory of the social production function, which implies that individual labour supply is determined as a trade-off between income, leisure and social approval. With regards to the thesis’ second research question, we find no evidence of that a mismatch between actual and preferred working hours would be negatively associated with subjective well-being. With regards to the diverse associations between working time and subjective well-being for different groups, and that the associations indeed prove to be meaningful, we encourage policy makers to promote a higher degree of individual freedom in deciding labour supply.

EducationsMSc in Applied Economics and Finance, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2016
Number of pages144
SupervisorsHerdis Steingrimsdottir