But the anecdotal evidence presented by Fraser, Schor and Ciulla — and met by millions of people everyday — is that many Americans feel they are working more than ever.
An ABCNEWS.com poll released Monday found only 26 percent of Americans feel they work too hard. Although far more feel the opposite, that's still a lot of people and it's twice as many as the 13 percent who told a Harris Poll in 1960 that they felt overworked. And the percentage rises to about a third of people with kids, or people between 35 and 54 years old.
What Happened to 'The Little Woman'?
Even for people who are not actually working longer hours than they used to, there's an explanation for why some of them might feel over-burdened anyway, particularly men.
Experts who accept some of the arguments of both sides of the working-longer debate often focus less on individuals' hours worked, instead looking at household hours on the job.
In Overworked and Underemployed, a study in The American Prospect, Barry Bluestone and Stephen Rose argue that to really understand the situation Americans face, you need to look beyond individuals and numbers.
The overall figures for how many hours a week the average American works have been held down by the increasing number of part-time service and retail jobs in the economy. But since many of the part-time jobs have been filled by the increasing number of women in the workforce, and many of these women had previously been housewives, there are fewer hours when anyone is taking care of household chores.
Instead of coming home to find the refrigerator and cupboards stocked, dinner ready, the table set, the clothes washed, the house clean and the children entertained, men are coming home and finding they have to chip in, because their wives aren't "the little woman," anymore. They are now sharing duties as breadwinner, which means men have to share household chores. The situation is exaggerated when both spouses work full-time — particularly if they don't earn enough to hire help.
If people aren't spending quite as many more hours at work as they think they are, the fact that they aren't allowed as much leisure time once they're off work might account for the apparent illusion.
Authors like Fraser, Schor and Ciullo, though, argue that there is no illusion, and the case made by the harried Americans who fill their books — and fill commuter trains and highways — is hard to discount.