Shorter Work Weeks In Manufacturing


Unlocking Female Labor




6 factories and 2550 workers


University of Michigan, Shahi Exports







In 1928, economist J.M. Keynes predicted that the workweek would be down to fifteen hours within 100 years. Though Keynes’s prediction does not seem to be turning into reality anytime soon, nothing prevents us from working in that direction. Whilst five day workweek is not uncommon for white collared jobs in India, it still remains a far fetched dream for blue collared workers. Take for instance the Indian garment industry which has a predominantly female labor force who have competing demands on their time. Would shorter workweek allow them to achieve better work-life balance and incentivize more to join the workforce hitherto constrained by various societal norms?


What happens to workers and the firm if (garment) workers are given an extra day off in the week?


The aim of our study is to understand if offering a shorter work week helps in retaining female workforce and improving their social outcomes. By changing the work-time schedule of a factory, we will be able to estimate the effect of shorter workweek on workers' physical and mental well being as well as their general life and job satisfaction. Moreover, we can measure the effects of shorter workweek on factories by studying the change in workers’ productivity, retention and attendance.

To study these effects, we plan to conduct an experiment in six factories in rural Karnataka. We intend to change the schedule of two factories to a five day workweek and see the difference in changes with respect to other four similar factories working for six days. The two factories will work 9 hours per day and 45 hours per week (five day work schedule) as opposed to 8 hours per day and 48 hours per week (six day work schedule). So the workers in the factories with five day work schedule will work one hour extra everyday but three hours less a week as compared to the workers working in the factory with six day work schedule. The idea is to assess whether workers can compensate for the three hours lost in a week by working one hour extra every day. We would like to see the change in their productivity as well as in their mental well being and overall quality of life.

If successful, this will pave the way towards understanding whether a shorter workweek can attract more women into the workforce given they will now have an extra day for family and other household responsibilities.


We tried to understand how workers would spend an extra day off in the week through surveys. We surveyed around 1,100 workers in two garment factories in rural Karnataka and found that less than 10 percent of them would consider using the extra day to get additional paid work. Majority of them would like to spend time with family, friends, do household chores or just relax thus highlighting the importance of this experiment.

Image credits: Nayantara Parikh

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