This paper uses micro-level data to examine the distribution of daily hours of work in the 1890s and uses comparable data from 1973 and 1991 to examine how inequality in the length of the work day by the hourly wage has changed. Although only data on the hours of men are strictly comparable over time (because of increases women’s labor force participation throughout this period), results are presented for women and married couples as well. The paper first describes the data, then presents tabulations of the length of the work day by the hourly wage in the 1890s, 1973, and 1991, and discusses the factors that might have affected the distribution of hours, such as hours legislation and decreases in the number of daily hours that workers are willing to supply and that firms demand from each worker. The paper will show that in the past the labor supply curve was much more backwards bending and will examine why. The paper concludes with an analysis of the implications of the findings for earnings inequality.

In the last quarter of the nineteenth century state Bureaus of Labor Statistics published numerous surveys of the personal, occupational, and economic circumstances of non-farm wage earners. The published state reports reproduced the micro data and many of these surveys are now available in machine readable form.2 The dataset used in this paper pools the available cross-sectional surveys that provide information on men’s and women’s daily hours of work, their wages, and their age.
The surveys that are used are from California in 1892, Kansas in 1895, 1896, 1897, and 1899, Maine in 1890, Michigan stone workers in 1888, Michigan railway workers in 1893, Wisconsin in 1895, and women in Indianapolis in 1893.