Nose to the grindstone? Blame our farming past!

Nose to the grindstone? Blame our farming past! Societies with a history of labour-intensive farming prefer harder work, scientists suggest

  • Research could explain why UK’s employees work an average of 42 hours a week 
  • Stanford study looked at how hard work preferences come to persist over time
  • It used data from the bi-annual European Social Survey between 2002 to 2014 

Don’t blame the boss if you spend too many hours at work. Instead point the finger at your forebears – who set the cultural template by toiling too long in the fields, a study says.

Societies with a history of labour-intensive cultivation of crops prefer harder work, the scientists suggest.

Author Dr Vicky Fouka, from Stanford University in the US, said: ‘High marginal returns in agricultural production provides an incentive for investment in a preference for work.

Societies with a history of labour-intensive cultivation of crops prefer harder work, scientists from Stanford University in the US suggest in a new study (file photo)

‘Other things being equal, societies that cultivate crops more dependent on labour effort work more hours.

‘Preferences for longer working hours, and more effort put in during those hours, can then persist through cultural transmission and institutional feedback mechanisms – even after societies have transitioned away from agriculture.’

Most of the UK and Irish population can trace their roots back to the first farmers that trekked across Europe thousands of years ago.

The Stanford research could explain why Britain’s full-time employees work an average of 42 hours a week – almost two hours more than a typical counterpart on the Continent. The study, published in The Economic Journal, used data from the bi-annual European Social Survey between 2002 to 2014.

It focused on three measures: the hours a week respondents reported working, their desired hours and the difference between actual and contracted hours.

Dr Fouka said: ‘The work effort in European regions can be explained by variation in suitability for labour intensive crops.’

Most of the UK and Irish population can trace their roots back to the first farmers that trekked across Europe thousands of years ago (file photo of Dulwich allotments during Dig for Victory)

The Stanford research could explain why Britain’s full-time employees work an average of 42 hours a week – almost two hours more than a typical counterpart on the Continent (file photo)

The researchers also looked at how preferences for hard work come to persist in a society over time.

They found significant aspects of work ethics are transmitted from parents to children, leading to more prominent results in respondents who have native-born parents.

Dr Fouka said: ‘High work ethic is correlated with lower preferences for redistribution, suggesting a feedback between culture and institutions that perpetuates cultural preferences.’

She added: ‘The laborious nature of rice cultivation has been theorised to have an impact on the work ethic of those societies that have depended on it.

‘This research shows systematically that this is true for a variety of crops, across the regions of Europe.’

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