Obligatory Google Ngram Post

December 20th, 2010  |  Published in Data, Social Science, Statistical Graphics, Time  |  1 Comment

It appears that everyone with a presence on the Internet is obligated to post some kind of riff on the amazing Google Ngram Viewer. Via Henry Farrell, I see that Daniel Little has attempted to perpetrate some social science, which made me think that perhaps while I’m at it, I can post something that actually relates to my dissertation research for a change. Hence, this:

Instances of the phrases "shorter hours" and "higher wages" in the Google ngram viewer.

Click for a bigger version, but the gist is that the red line indicates the phrase “higher wages”, and the blue line is “shorter hours”. Higher wages have a head start, with hours not really appearing on the agenda until the late 19th century. That’s a bit later than I expected, but it’s generally consistent with what I know about hours-related labor struggle in the 19th century.

The 20th century is the more interesting part of the graph in any case. For a while, it seems that discussion of wages and hours moves together. They rise in the period of ferment after World War I, and again during the depression. Both decline during World War II, which is unsurprising–both wage and hour demands were subordinated to the mobilization for war. But then after the war, the spike in mentions of “higher wages” greatly outpaces mentions of “shorter hours”–the latter has only a small spike, and thereafter the phrase enters a secular decline right through to the present.

Interest in higher wages appears to experience a modest revival in the 1970’s, corresponding to the beginnings of the era of wage stagnation that we are still living in. But for the first time, there is no corresponding increase in discussion of shorter hours. This is again not really surprising, since the disappearance of work-time reduction from labor’s agenda as been widely remarked upon. But it’s still pretty interesting to see such evidence of it in the written corpus.

Responses

  1. Abe says:

    December 21st, 2010 at 3:38 pm (#)

    For even more fun, plot “job security” against both “higher wages” and “shorter hours”. http://bit.ly/gn3eOF

    Many authors have suggested that in recent years layoff anxiety has led workers to replace the demand for shorter hours with the demand for job security. (even though the shorter hours creates more jobs in the long run). The data seems to bear this out: job security first emerges during WWII, overtakes shorter hours by the early 60s, peaks during the Reagan years, and surpasses higher wages by about 1990. For reasons I don’t totally understand, both higher wages and job security suffer a precipitous decline from the mid-90s to present. This may be due to a decline in the influence of labor demands overall as opposed to the decline of any specific demand.

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