News and Commentary

Average American Works More Than The Average Medieval Peasant

We hear the propaganda often: Medieval times, the so-called “dark ages,” were miserable for peasants, the labor force exploited by greedy feudal lords.

Believe what you will about these so-called “dark ages,” just know that research from Boston College professor Juliet Schor shows that the average American works far more hours and far more days a year than the average peasant did during the middle-ages.

In Schor’s text, The Overworked American: The Unexpected Decline of Leisure, the professor demonstrates that the average leisure time for Americans remains far below that of the average leisure time for peasants during the middle-ages. Back in 1987, Americans worked on average 1,949 hours annually.

According to The Ladders, by 2015, that number dropped by just a little over a hundred: 1,811 hours annually.

Neither one even compares to the average working time of peasants: 1620 hours yearly. The Ladders provided a list from Schor’s research of working hours for various groups throughout history:

  • Casual laborer, U.K. (14th century): 1,440 hours
  • Adult male peasant, U.K. (13th century): 1,620 hours
  • Average worker, U.S. (2015): 1,811 hours
  • Manufacturing workers, U.K. (1988): 1856 hours
  • Average worker, U.S. (1987): 1,949 hours
  • Farmer-miner, adult male, U.K. (1400-1600): 1,980 hours
  • English worker (Middle Ages): 2,309 hours

Medieval peasants had more leisure time for a variety of reasons: 1.) They could not work nights, since work would have to end by sundown. 2.) The Church declared no work on various holy days, far more than the average American year.