Inequality in Europe

Working the 24/7 Economy

Working nine-to-five is no longer the norm for many employees in our globalized economy. A new survey of European workers shows how the prevalence of nonstandard work schedules differs across European states. It also shows how the degree to which educational inequalities are implicated varies across policy contexts. The study by Pablo Gracia (Trinity College Dublin), Wen-Jui Han (New York University), and Jianghong Li (WZB) uses data from the 2005, 2010, and 2015 European Working Conditions Surveys (EWCS) containing information from more than 93,879 workers across 29 countries.

The study reveals that European countries differ markedly on the prevalence of nonstandard working schedules. Respondents were asked, for example, whether they often worked night shifts or were forced to work irregular hours. The authors found that regions with well established welfare states, such as Scandinavia and, to a lesser extent, Continental Europe, had a lower incidence of nonstandard work schedules. By contrast, the Southern European and Central-Eastern European regions showed high levels of nonstandard work schedules. These results have important relevance at the scientific and policy levels, as nonstandard work schedules are linked to poorer health, lower work autonomy, and a greater propensity for family conflict. 

                 Blue: Less than a bachelor's degree | Red: Bachelor's degree or higher

Nonstandard Work Schedules in EU

Figure: Percentage of workers with nonstandard work schedules, by European region and education level, average for 2005, 2010, and 2015

The authors further point to educational inequalities. The above graph shows that less educated workers disproportionately work nonstandard work schedules, while also suggesting that policy contexts can alleviate such educational inequalities. Educational differences in nonstandard work schedules are the smallest in the Scandinavian countries, while Southern European and Central-East European countries showed the highest educational gaps in nonstandard work schedules. These results speak to the importance of economic and public policies in shaping the quality of work and schedules across socioeconomic groups, since nonstandard work schedules affect the physical and psychological well-being of workers and their families.


Gracia, Han, Li: Nonstandard work schedules in 29 European countries, 2005–15: differences by education, gender, and parental status (Monthly Labor Review, July 2021).