Despite the economic boom and rising wages, many people in Germany are at risk of poverty and depend on Hartz IV benefits. In most cases, the widening gap in wages, assets and opportunities is blamed for this. But nearly half of the rise in inequality in earned income since the 1990s is due to a very different factor, namely unequal hours of work, as a study shows.

In almost no other country is the increasing inequality of working hours more conducive to increasing inequality of labor income than in Germany. However, working time is usually not the result of free decisions of workers, but of a misguided policy and a still stuck mentality in our society.

In hardly any Western industrialized country has the average working time fallen as sharply as in Germany - from almost 2,000 hours in the 1960s to little more than 1,400 hours per year full time. In the last 30 years, there has been a strong increase in part-time work. Today, almost 16 million people - out of a total workforce of 45 million - work part-time.

Men with low qualifications

Until the 1990s, differences in working hours have reduced the inequality of earned income, as people on low incomes often work more hours than people on high incomes. However, this is the other way around: Part-time jobs today are mostly associated with low incomes and wages.

Some say that this is merely the result of the sharp increase in the employment rate of women in Germany. However, this argument falls short or is wrong for a variety of reasons. First, it is not at all clear why women are paid less and have worse working conditions than men. At 21 percent, Germany still has one of the largest gender pay gaps in Europe, whereby women are usually not less well-educated and qualified than men, but often even better. In fact, 80 percent of part-time employees are women, but often involuntary. Many women would like to work more or even full time.

The assumption that only the higher gainful employment of women explains the increasing inequality of working time and thus the income from work is simply wrong. Because the above study also shows that both women with high and low-skilled women and wages today work more than before. The difference between working hours scissors and men is that if they have low qualifications and receive low wages, today they work on average ten percent less per week than they did 20 years ago. By contrast, well-qualified men with high wages have extended their working hours.

What does the rising working time gap explain, both for all workers, and especially for men? One key reason is the change in Germany's economic structure: the share of jobs in the industry is decreasing and instead service occupations are becoming increasingly important. It is above all these jobs that often bring more flexibility but also lower hourly wages. In addition, there is a clear reduction in tariff coverage in wage bargaining, which is significantly lower in the services sector than in industry.