Sustainability Science

, Volume 11, Issue 2, pp 261–276 | Cite as

Work less, do less?

Working time reductions and rebound effects
  • Johannes BuhlEmail author
  • José Acosta
Special Feature: Original Article Socially Sustainable Degrowth as a Social-Ecological Transformation
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. Special Feature: Socially Sustainable Degrowth as a Social-Ecological Transformation


A reduction in working hours is being considered to tackle issues associated with ecological sustainability, social equity and enhanced life satisfaction—a so-called triple dividend. With respect to an environmental dividend, the authors analyse the time use rebound effects of reducing working time. They explore how an increase in leisure time triggers a rearrangement of time and expenditure budgets, and thus the use of resources in private households. Does it hold true that time-intensive activities replace resource-intensive consumption when people have more discretionary time at their disposal? This study on environmental issues is complemented by introducing the parameters of voluntary social engagement and individual life satisfaction as potential co-benefits of rebound effects. In order to analyse the first dividend, a mixed methods approach is adopted, enabling two models of time use rebound effects to be applied. First, semi-standardised interviews reveal that environmentally ambiguous substitutions of activities occur following a reduction in working hours. Second, estimates for Germany from national surveys on time use and expenditure show composition effects of gains in leisure time and income loss. For the latter, we estimate the marginal propensity to consume and the marginal propensity to time use. The results show that time savings due to a reduction in working time trigger relevant rebound effects in terms of resource use. However, both the qualitative and quantitative findings put the rebound effects following a reduction in working time into perspective. Time use rebound effects lead to increased voluntary social engagement and greater life satisfaction, the second and third dividends.


Social acceleration Time use Working time Life satisfaction Mixed methods Resource use 



The research was funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research. Earlier versions of this paper were presented at the 4th International Conference on Degrowth for Ecological Sustainability and Social Equity in Leipzig in September 2014; the 25 Years ISOE Conference Lost in the Anthropocene? Sustainable Science in the Era of Mankind in Frankfurt Main in November 2014; the 6th Sustainable Summer School at UPC Barcelona in November 2014; the 1st Vienna Conference on Pluralism in Economics in April 2015, and the Good Life Beyond Growth Conference in Jena in May 2015. The authors are grateful for the comments received from conference participants.

Supplementary material

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Copyright information

© Springer Japan 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment, EnergyWuppertalGermany
  2. 2.Faculty for Social Sciences, Economics and Business AdministrationUniversity of BambergBambergGermany

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