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China’s total working hours appear to be in the midst of a major downshift. Whether this evidences downward pressure on employment, employer response to rising wages, a change in work-life behavior, or a confluence of these and other factors is debatable. Of note, the decline in Chinese working hours stands in sharp contrast to the stable official employment numbers.
From the 1980s up to the global financial crisis (GFC) in 2008, significant overtime work was very common in China, especially in the manufacturing sector. Indeed, intense overtime conditions received much negative publicity, in part because deficiencies in China’s labor law allowed employers to exploit labor unfairly. The decline in overtime work is a function of several trends: shrinking external demand in the aftermath of the GFC; increasing labor costs due to productivity shifts and demographic changes, and a topping out of the migrant labor pool.