Working Time, Inequality and a Sustainable Future
In 2015, the United Nations implemented the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which cover a wide range of social, economic and environmental issues. While there is a virtual international consensus regarding the importance of these goals, and reconsidering the ecological costs of human development, there are disagreements on the best approaches to actually achieving sustainability. Mainstream perspectives argue that the most feasible and effective path to sustainable development is to decouple economic growth from its environmental impacts, largely through the advancement and implementation of green technologies. In this framework, economic growth is seen as synonymous with development and a necessary prerequisite for improving human wellbeing. On the other hand, many scholars are critical of this approach to sustainable development and argue that economic growth is not only antithetical to achieving environmental sustainability, it also has limited appeal for improving social and economic wellbeing in developed countries. With this in mind, in this dissertation I examine alternative pathways to sustainable development that move beyond the growth-consensus. Previous studies argue that a working time reduction potentially represents a multi-dividend sustainability policy that could improve social, economic and environmental outcomes. Similarly, previous research also indicates that inequality is negatively associated with human wellbeing and can lead to increased environmental pressures. Across three empirical chapters, I investigate the effects of working hours and inequality, and their interaction, on measures of environmental and human wellbeing across US states over time. In the first chapter, I assess the relationship between average working hours and CO2 emissions from 2007 to 2013. This chapter is the first examination of this relationship at the US state level and finds that longer working hours are associated with increased emissions over time. The second empirical chapter takes this research one step further and examines how inequality shapes the relationship between working hours and emissions from 2005 to 2015. The results of these analyses again find that longer working hours are associated with increased emissions but that the relationship becomes more intense at higher levels of inequality. The third empirical chapter investigates the claim that a working time reduction could be a multi-dividend sustainability policy by examining the relationship between work hours and life expectancy from 2005 to 2015. I also examine how inequality shapes this relationship as well. Results indicate that longer working hours are associated with decreases in life expectancy, and that this effect is larger at higher levels of inequality. In all, these studies provide more evidence that reducing working hours could potentially be an effective sustainability policy that could contribute to achieving multiple sustainable development goals. Further, they show that inequality is an important factor shaping socio-environmental relationships and population health relationships.