Shao Health Economics Review

Shao Health Economics Review (2022) 12:50


Does less working time improve life satisfaction? Evidence from European Social Survey Qinglong Shao*


Background: Worktime is one of the main drivers of life satisfaction, and a balanced distribution of working hours and leisure hours directly impacts feelings of well-being. Based on previous studies, we seek to confirm this relation- ship in the European context and explore other potential driving forces of life satisfaction. Health condition as the mediating variable is also examined.

Methods: This article uses an ordered probit model to analyze the impact of working time on life satisfaction using data extracted from the most recent round (wave 10) of the European Social Survey (ESS). Hypotheses are proposed to test the impact of working time on life satisfaction, the mediating effect of health in the worktime–satisfaction nexus, and the effects of social inclusion, social trust, feelings of safety, and digitalization on life satisfaction.

Results: The results reveal a negative and significant correlation between hours of work and life satisfaction, thus implying that a shorter working week can improve Europeans’ life satisfaction. Health is found to be an important intermediate variable that plays an essential role in the dynamic through which working times influence life satisfac- tion. Further, we find that those in the middle class prefer to work shorter hours to achieve a higher feeling of satisfac- tion and that high earners to a lesser extent, while low earners generally show no preference. Employees of private firms are more satisfied with shorter working hours, while satisfaction for those working in public institutions is not affected by changes in hours worked. Finally, we verify the robustness of our estimations by replacing life satisfaction with happiness.

Conclusions: Working fewer hours contributes to higher life satisfaction in Europe, and health plays an essential mediating role in this relationship. Social inclusion, social trust, feelings of safety and digitalization all play a factor in improving life satisfaction. Compared to other job categories, private sector employees can achieve greater life satis- faction from reducing their total working time.


➢ Ordered probit model is used to analyze worktime-satisfaction nexus in Europe.

➢ A shorter working schedule can improve life satisfaction.

➢ Health plays a mediating role in worktime-satisfaction nexus.

© The Author(s) 2022. Open Access This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article’s Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article’s Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit http:// creat iveco mmons. org/ licen ses/ by/4. 0/. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver (http:// creat iveco mmons. org/ publi cdoma in/ zero/1. 0/) applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated in a credit line to the data.

Open Access


Institute of Chinese Studies, Freie Universität Berlin, Fabeckstr, 23-25, 14195 Berlin, Germany



Page 2 of 18Shao Health Economics Review (2022) 12:50

Background There is a small number of studies that theoretically explain and empirically analyze the determinants of life satisfaction [1, 2], and income has been identified as an important driver of satisfaction in numerous other stud- ies [3, 4]. However, life satisfaction may also remain con- stant over time despite rising wealth [5, 6]. Therefore, “we must be highly skeptical of the view that long-term changes in the rate of growth of welfare can be gauged even roughly from changes in the rate of growth of out- put” [7]. On the contrary, economic recessions, for exam- ple, are likely to reduce psychological well–being, which entail not only declining income and increasing unem- ployment but also a sense of emotional loss [8]. Stress caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has been found to be strongly correlated with life satisfaction in Poland [9], and the mental health of jobless people in China should be of particular concern [10]. Personal characteristics, such as age, gender, and marital status, are also impor- tant influencing factors [11, 12]. The introduction of the European Working Time Directive (EWTD) has greatly reduced training hours for workers such as surgical resi- dents, which has enhanced their job satisfaction [13].

In recent years, a growing number of empirical stud- ies have explored the role of working time in well–being. Their findings are mixed, particularly on whether a shorter working week has positive or negative effects on well-being, and the call for more in-depth research remains unanswered. Using different methods, particu- larly the ordered probit and logit models, scholars have investigated the worktime–satisfaction nexus based on various national- and regional-level surveys conducted in, for example, the US, UK, Germany, Australia, France, Korea, and the EU [14]. We review the literature below to explore the nexuses between working time and work sat- isfaction and job satisfaction and overall life satisfaction. It is worth noting that life satisfaction is not necessarily correlated with job satisfaction [15]. The empirical lit- erature on the worktime–satisfaction nexus is presented chronologically in Table 1.

Working time and working hours satisfaction Several scholars have investigated how worktime influ- ences people’s satisfaction with their time spent at work from the perspective of gender. Booth and Ours [20] find that working full-time-and especially overtime-dissat- isfies women, whereas men appear to have the highest

working hours satisfaction if they work full-time, but not overtime. In a later study, the same authors consider interdependence within the family and focus on part- nered men and women to investigate the cross-partner effects of part-time work on well-being. Their findings show that both women and men are more satisfied with their working hours if they work part-time [21]. To tackle the endogeneity problem, Rudolf [1] uses a fixed-effects ordered logit model to examine the worktime–satisfac- tion nexus. His results indicate that, for Korean wives, a shorter working week may raise their life satisfaction, which significantly declines if more working hours are required; likewise, overtime work can reduce the work- ing hours satisfaction of Korean husbands. Moreover, women are likely to suffer disproportionately when both partners’ inter-role strain intensifies [31]. In sum, the empirical outcomes in various countries indicate that women have higher working hours satisfaction when working fewer hours, while men are satisfied with part- time or full-time jobs according to their own preferences. Both genders are clearly dissatisfied with overtime work.

Working time and job satisfaction In general, scholars have verified that a balanced work- time distribution between work and life increases sat- isfaction and health [32], and evidence shows that a mismatch between desired and actual working times negatively affects German nurses’ job satisfaction [28]. Regarding gender differences, Booth and Ours [20, 21] reveal a significant positive correlation between part- time work and job satisfaction in both British and Aus- tralian females, but not their male counterparts, thus implying that only women are generally happier when working fewer hours. Rudolf ’s [1] findings in the Korean context confirm this relationship: job satisfaction signifi- cantly declines in wives required to work long hours, and overtime work can reduce husbands’ job satisfaction. He also tests cross-partner effects and finds that husbands working fewer hours can increase Korean wives’ job sat- isfaction. Using a German longitudinal dataset from 1999 to 2009, Holly and Mohnen [23] find a significant positive relationship between working hours and job satisfaction for all employees and separately for men and full-time workers. This suggests that employees, and particularly male employees, can achieve a feeling of accomplish- ment from their overwork. Therefore, it is not strange to observe a significant negative effect on job satisfaction

➢ Trust, social inclusion, safety and digitalization can promote life satisfaction.

➢ Private firm employees prefer shorter work weeks while others show no preference.

Keywords: Life satisfaction, Working time, Ordered probit model, Health, Job category



Page 3 of 18Shao Health Economics Review (2022) 12:50

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