Americans aren’t working as much as they did before the pandemic, according to a new report from the ADP Research Institute. 

Between December 2019 and December 2023, the median number of hours worked by U.S. hourly workers fell from 38.4 to 37.7 a week, a decline of almost two percent, according to the report. ADP’s data scientists tracked about 13 million hourly jobs at private non-farm employers using individual payroll records.

To be clear, the shorter workweek can’t be blamed entirely on the pandemic, says Nela Richardson, chief economist at ADP.

In the U.S., the workweek has been shrinking for decades as the American economy shifts from producing goods to providing services, shedding manufacturing jobs with fixed hours in favor of service-based jobs like accounting and customer service that offer more flexibility. 

But the people driving the post-pandemic decline in hours worked fall into four categories: women, young adults, highly paid workers and employees at small businesses.

It’s not that these groups are “quiet quitting” or working less hard in their jobs, says Richardson. Instead, she attributes the shorter workweek to employees’ desire for more flexibility, rising wages, job availability and talent shortages, among other factors.

Rising wages mean high earners can reduce their hours 

Per ADP’s research, most of the people who are working less are high earners — those making a median salary of at least $79,500 a year — while lower-wage earners — those making a median salary of $35,400 or less a year — are working more than they did four years ago.

Richardson points out that high earners can maintain their annual income while working fewer hours, thanks to big post-pandemic pay increases. Workers’ paychecks are growing faster now compared to before the pandemic, enabling some people to work less.

But low-wage earners could be feeling the pinch of inflation more and don’t have that same flexibility.

A recent Bankrate survey of more than 2,000 Americans found that the highest earners feel the least scathed by inflation. Sixty-four percent of workers making under $50,000 a year said their income hasn’t matched or exceeded inflation, while just 56% of those earning between $80,000 and $99,999 shared the same sentiment.

Women are working more part-time jobs than men

A record number of Americans — 22 million — are working part-time, Labor Department figures show.

This is especially true of women, ADP reports, who accounted for 55% of all part-time hourly workers in December 2023. Women are 1.6 times more likely to work part-time than men, according to the National Women’s Law Center.

In 2019, women worked 4.4 hours less per week than men, who worked 40 hours. Since then, that gap has widened to 5.4 hours.

A lack of child care and elder care options has forced some women to reduce their hours or leave the workforce altogether, says Richardson. 

Although men have taken on increased care duties since the start of the pandemic, women still perform the most caregiving in the U.S., according to the Labor Department.

The industries that saw bigger declines in hours worked — health care, leisure and hospitality — are dominated by women. These sectors are adding jobs, says Richardson, but they’re still shy of their pre-pandemic staffing levels, and because many of the jobs they’re adding are part-time, women in these industries are clocking fewer hours.

Gen Zers and millennials want greater flexibility and work-life balance

Adults 35 and younger are working an hour less each week than they did four years ago.

Younger employees could be working less because of personal preference, says Richardson. 

In the wake of the pandemic, which introduced remote work to a wider swath of people, there’s been a growing demand among Gen Zers and millennials for more flexibility in terms of not just where they work but when, whether it be part-time jobs or full-time roles with more flexible hours, according to recent research from Deloitte, which surveyed more than 22,000 Gen Zers and millennials

“If you look at what types of jobs young employees are opting for, it’s not manufacturing or labor-intensive jobs with strict hours,” says Richardson. “Instead, young people are gravitating to service-sector jobs, which can offer a great deal of flexibility.” 

Small businesses are switching up their hiring strategies 

Employees at small companies have historically worked shorter schedules than their counterparts at large companies, but they, too, are working less than they did before the pandemic. 

At companies with 20-49 employees, ADP found that people worked three hours less each week in 2023 than they did in 2019. 

The decline in working hours could be employer-driven. Small businesses continue to struggle with inflation and hiring qualified workers, says Richardson. Some small businesses could be hiring more workers and giving them fewer hours, fearing another labor shortage, or, in response to higher labor costs, cutting hours to avoid giving anyone overtime pay.

“There are still several pockets of the labor market where there’s just not enough workers,” Richardson explains. “Coming out of the ‘great resignation,’ employers, especially small businesses, are filling in the gaps with several part-time workers versus one full-time worker so they’re more resilient to future labor shortages.” 

Even though people are working less, the job market has been “surprisingly resilient” in the wake of the pandemic, says Richardson. Unemployment has stayed under 4% since December 2021, while productivity has surged. 

“It’s too soon to tell what this trend of reduced working hours means for the economy overall,” she adds, “but it’s clear that people value time more than they did before the pandemic, and that’s changing how they approach work.”

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