How Many Hours a Week Do You Work? Why More Hours Means More Money in America.

Editor: we updated this work in 2014 and broke down the data by hours worked.  Please read that piece as well.

Thomas Jefferson once said, “I’m a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it.” Wise words from a man who died with the equivalent of $1,000,000 in today’s dollars worth of debt – but his words still ring true today.

I tried to find data on the amount of hours worked per week broken down by individual income. Let me save you some time: that data is nowhere to be found, at least not simply. I can tell you this… the average American private sector worker works 34.3 hours in an week. I can also tell you that the average American worker making an income from $100,000 to $149,999 puts in 45.09 hours in a usual week, 34.3% more than the average worker making between $10,000 and $19,999. So I ask you, dear reader, how many hours a week do you work

One of the reasons higher earners are so successful at earning money is the sheer amount of time higher earners spend at their jobs. For every income bracket that I looked at, the next higher income level worked more hours on average. (To reproduce my data set, toss out earners below $10,000 and those who worked 0 hours from 2010-2011 CPS data at IPUMS-CPS).

Source of Data

Miriam King, Steven Ruggles, J. Trent Alexander, Sarah Flood, Katie Genadek, Matthew B. Schroeder, Brandon Trampe, and Rebecca Vick. Integrated Public Use Microdata Series, Current Population Survey: Version 3.0. [Machine-readable database]. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 2010.

If You Work Hard, You’ll Earn More Money

People who earn more are also working more hours in a usual week than those who are making less.

When we talk about raising taxes on the ‘rich’ or the ‘top 1%’, it’s good to consider that the reason a lot of people are in that position is due to their incredible work ethics. For every Russell Simmons and Kanye West, who no longer have to work 40+ hours a week, there are loads of Americans still putting in more than their fair share of time at the office.

So, readers, how many hours do you work in an average week?


  1. says

    I don’t think that 1% are not joining the movement because they are busy working. I think they are not joining because the movement is against them to start with, and they simply don’t care.

    • says

      Well, yes, I was being a bit facetious with that header, haha.

      However, a fair number of one percenters have Occupied with the others – like Michael Moore, Russel Simmons, and Kanye West – who all certainly make more that $380,000. I suppose they are at a point where they don’t need to work 40+ hours, however (all three are in Entertainment).

      Thanks for the comment!

  2. says

    I was looking for the same data too :) From some preliminary analysis between McD’s manager salary and an investment banker salary, they are only ~10-20$ apart actually. Of course I took the average salary into account instead of the high flyer salary. The discrepancy in hrs worked is pretty high. 

    • says

      Suba, don’t be a stranger! I can send my data over to you if you want, but I only had a few categories (total income, hours worked, etc). You’re in tech so you could also just go to IPUMS-CPS and get a dataset with occupations built in. (Not saying you need to be in tech, but you probably deal with loads of numbers daily if your job is anything like mine)

      Let me know if you need help massaging the data – my general order of operations:
      1) Import into stats package (R is free, and a decent one)
      2) In stats package split into columns & name columns.
      3) I use OpenOffice, so I sort, then split it into multiple tables (65k max rows)
      4) Curve fit on – they even let you import the weights. It takes around 20 minutes.
      5) Write whatever javascript calculator I need, or make a HighChart.
      6) Write the article. Profit (or whatever, haha).

      Let me know if you want to tackle one, I can help you in more detail. I think more writers need to tackle data sets – this is my new mission, haha.

  3. says

    I work long hours right now with very little payoff. I’m trying to grow my own business. One of 2 things will result: either I’ll eventually earn a lot, or I’ll eventually earn nothing from these efforts. That’s part of the risk that all business owners take.

    • says

      Risk taking is definitely an important aspect of the whole ‘earn more’ thing – and not just risks to take risks, but risks which have a decent chance of paying off. Certainly just ‘working harder’ isn’t always the answer. I wish you luck!

  4. says

    Interesting perspective. I put in a solid 168 hours parenting my three children, and an additional 40 with online projects. The money is steadily growing, so in my experience I think you are on to something.

    • says

      208 hours in an 168 hour week… that’s why they say “I’m giving it my 124%”, heh.

      I get you though – it’s easier for people (this commenter included) who don’t have children. If you do have children, you will value the time that you spend with them more than a few additional hours of work – and I imagine you’re making the right choice.

      Thanks for the comment and the parenting perspective.

    • says

      Yeah – that’s the problem with averages, in this case. I’d say that it’s more of a “high salaried people work more” thing than a “people who work more earn high salaries” thing. Also, the CPS survey’s numbers top out at 99 hours a week, while it is theoretically possible for you to work more (sleep in the office or something, heh.)

      I think that working more will get you ahead – but it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be on the far right of the graph. Thanks for stopping by!

  5. Sullivanb3 says

    45-50 here…

    My only problem with these stats are that the chart is showing income as your input and hours as your output, but trying to supply that causation is the other way around.  I think the chart does hold value and your premise is very motivating but I think if you change the graph to have hours as input and salary range as an output, it would hold more value (pending if the trend is the same).

    • says

      Yeah, I was thinking about error bars but this graph is crowded enough already.  The problem with doing it that way – the numbers are clustered in 5s, so there are peaks of people at 30, 35, 45, 50 hours worked.  Also, there is a massive amount of data points at 40 hours worked.  I figured the averages were interesting enough, but I can fire up the stats program again if you want.

      BTW, how’s China?  How hard do people work over there, have you gotten a feel?

      • Sullivanb3 says

        No need, I just wanted to make a suggestion.  Definitely interesting to say the least.  I think most people that read here would already know what I said anyway and would take the graph for what it is.  I just wanted to point out that if i work 40 hours a week and make 35k a year, it would not be reasonable to say that if i just worked 5 extra hours a week i could be making 6 figures as the graph seems to suggest.

        People work hard as heck over here.  It is hard to explain really but in short there is alot less innovation type of work.  Lots more laborers.  Youll see a 30 story apartment complex go up in a matter of months.  So in comparison, people in America like to have immigrants mow their lawn because its cheaper and they work so damn hard.  Well people here work even harder because with a billion plus people there is plenty of competition.  The government can manipulate wages to keep them nice and low.  I believe the class gap here is so big that it is literally unfathomable.

  6. says

    Excellent point!  You want more money are you willing to work harder?  Would be interesting to poll the Occupy protesters how many hours they work per week.  Cool graphic.  Thanks for sharing!

    • says

      Glad you enjoy it! I do enjoy digging into CPS data but it means more when people appreciate the effort. Any other graphics you’d like to see?

      Thanks for stopping by!