WorkChoices and work-life balance

I am copping some flak for suggesting that falling divorce rates are inconsistent with left-familist complaints that WorkChoices undermine the family. It is certainly true that divorce rates are the most extreme indicator of family stresses, and would not pick up lesser harms to families. But are any indicators at all matching left-familist claims?

Commenter Michael Kalecki suggests that:

Work can be bad for families without divorce coming into it. An obligation to work longer hours for example.

That is true, but are people working longer hours since WorkChoices came into effect? Australian Social Trends 2008, published by the ABS, reports that they are not.

In 2005, the year before WorkChoices started, the average full-time employee spent 40.6 hours per week at work. By 2007 it had dropped to 39.4 hours – the lowest it has been since 1986, back in the days before any significant labour market deregulation. Part-timers also worked less, on average – though the drop for them was only small, from 16.2 hours to 16.1 hours.

What about full-time employees working more than 50 hours per week? This number is also trending down, from 23.8% in 2005 to 21.6% in 2007. I can only find trend data going back to 1994, but this is the lowest number since then.

The left-familists assume that employees are powerless in the face of employers indifferent to their other obligations, and that only regulation and unions can protect employees. In reality, the market functions much more effectively than that. As the HILDA data shows, employees rarely experience long-term dissatisfaction with work-life balance. Their job changes or they change their job.