Extending the opening hours of bars and pubs in England and Wales has led to a rise in workplace absenteeism of 1.7%. In Spain, a reduction in opening hours has reduced the amount of days that people take off by 2%. These are the central findings of research by Maria Navarro Paniagua, presented at the Royal Economic Society’s 2013 annual conference.

The study looks at the effect of 2005 legislation to allow much longer serving hours in bars and pubs in England and Wales, where previously most had been obliged to shut by 11pm. The main argument in favour of the new law was that previous restrictions were a cause of anti-social behaviour with people drinking ‘against the clock’.

The research focuses on the effect on people calling in ‘sick’, presumably after drinking too much or staying out too late the night before. It compares the change in worker absence in England and Wales with the change in Spain, where, over the same period, opening hours were reduced because of anti-social behaviour around bars and pubs.

The study finds that ‘in England and Wales longer opening hours increased absenteeism, while in Spain shorter opening hours reduced absenteeism’. These effects seem to be driven by people changing their drinking habits since much of the change is among young people, who are typically bigger drinkers. The author concludes:

‘Our findings indicate that how governments regulate leisure activities, such as the licensing hours of pubs, has the potential to affect workplace productivity.’

This research presents a new finding on a hotly debated issue. Some argue that the reasons for differences in drinking behaviour between the UK and the rest of Europe have deep cultural roots and cannot be affected by simple changes in the law.


In late 2005, new legislation in England and Wales allowed much later serving hours as part of a government push to liberalise drinking regulations. The previous restrictions typically required closing by 11pm and were considered by the government as a source of social problems.

The initial government White Paper Time for Reform contended that the uniform and early closing hour meant ‘that large numbers of drinkers come out onto the streets late at night at the same time causing disorder.’ It also contended that early closing caused a ‘beat the clock’ game that encouraged binge drinking.

Jane Griffiths MP is quoted claiming that ‘The effect of compulsory closure has been for people to drink ‘against the clock’, with whole generations of young people learning to drink as much as possible in a short space of time... Most of these young people are drunker than they would be if they drank at their own pace.’

The government claimed that deregulated closing times could create a more European cafe culture that spread out peak dispersal time and resulted in reductions in both binge drinking and in drink-related offences.

This research looks at one potential unintended consequence of liberalisation: the effect on workplace absenteeism. Opening hours have the potential to influence absenteeism in two ways: first, extending hours brings the time of leisure and working hours closer, and perhaps into more open conflict; and second, later consumption of alcohol and intoxication may ‘spill over’ into working hours.

This research examined the issue by looking at how increasing hours in England and Wales influenced workplace absenteeism, and comparing it to the recent Spanish experience.

In contrast to the UK, Spain, over the last two decades, has witnessed a marked reduction in the hours of opening at bars; typically from 6am to 3am. These changes were motivated by different social concerns to the reforms in the UK. Specifically, they reflected complaints over inner-city noise pollution and disruption to residents near bars.

The research uses these recent legislative changes in England and Wales and Spain as a ‘quasi-experiment’ to identify the effect of bar opening hours on absence. It demonstrates a causal effect of bar opening hours on worker absenteeism: longer opening hours increased absence.

In England and Wales, longer opening hours increased absenteeism; in Spain, shorter opening hours reduced absenteeism. These effects were large: extending hours in England and Wales led to a 1.7% increase in worker absenteeism; reducing opening hours in Spain reduced absence by 2%.

Together this indicates that how governments regulate leisure activities, such as the licensing hours of pubs, has the potential to affect workplace productivity.



RES media consultant Romesh Vaitilingam:
+44 (0) 7768 661095

Page Options