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The Economics of Daylight Saving Time (DST)

Updated: Mar 13

Yesterday, all our clocks sprung forward to signal the start of Daylight Saving Time or DST.  This means that we all adjust our clocks one hour ahead but for more obvious reasons, all of of us who follow DST lose that precious one hour of sleep.  

For many if not most, myself included, dread springing forward, for obvious reasons.  But this debate has been going on for so long and two opposing sides cannot seem to come to an agreement.  

Daylight saving time can be traced to the the 1880s, when more than 144 local time zones existed.  With the advent if the railway system, the inconsistency of the time zones led to missed connections and scheduling problems.  Time zones were then standardized and four major time zones were established to keep a more cohesive and reliable timekeeping system in the United States.  It wasn’t until the 1900s that the DST became more of a necessity.  Germany was the first country to implement DST to conserve lamps and lighting during World War I.  Benjamin Franklin also toyed with the idea of daylight saving time time to conserve candles and use natural sunlight during the late fall-winter months.  The United States followed suit in 1918, also to conserve fuel for the war effort but businesses supported the effort heavily more than the others primarily to encourage more shopping in the early evening hours.  Shortly after though, farmers protested DST because it reduced the amount of time to fulfill farm activities.  Congress repealed DST and everyone had more stable circadian rhythms until it was reinstated in 1942 once again because of the war and has since become a permanent thing except for the “sunny states” like Hawaii and Arizona.

So the ongoing debate, keeps going, and going, and going.  Let’s examine the reasons why this is so.

Those who favor permanent DST claim that it promotes safety since longer daylight hours make driving safer and lower pedestrian accidents.  Crime also seems to be lower after springing forward, especially during commuting hours. This includes joggers, people walking their dogs as well as children who play outside during these hours.

They also claim that it is good for the economy, since most people shop after work, increasing fuel usage and eating out.  Certain industries such as the golf industry benefit more since if DST was to be implemented earlier, that it would earn $200 to $400 million more since the evening are longer to play golf.  In fact the Chamber of Commerce tends to support DST for the positive effects that it has on the economy.

Many also contend that DST tends to encourage people to be more active specifically outdoor activities.

But according to those that oppose DST, the disadvantages are more profound.  Many health professionals have advocated against DST due to the negative effects of falling back/springing forward to our natural circadian rhythms.  The risk of heart attacks increases in the days following DST in those that have underlying health issues.  Reports of increased headaches, rise in falls and injuries, even suicide and depression follow in the days after springing forward.  Road accidents also increase in the days even weeks of the time change.  All these translate to mounting costs that already plague our healthcare system.

The time changes that follow DST also reduce productivity.  The Monday following DST is often called “Sleepy Monday,” since most people tend to be sleep-deprived during this time. Employees tend to be less productive post-DST and are prone to cyberloafing.  Workers tend to spend an average of 8.4 minutes of browsing the internet for non-work related topics for every hour of interrupted sleep the night before.

DST can also be disruptive, hence expensive.  Air travel tend to get disrupted by time changes for countries that adopt DST vis-a-vis non-DST countries.

In fact certain organizations have devised an index to measure the costs associated with DST.  The Lost Hour Index captures the costs of increased heart attacks, workplace injuries, and increased cyberloafing and costs the economy almost $434 million annually.

In summary, majority of Americans would like to make DST permanent, i.e. to stop the falling back and springing forward. This allows for standardization which promotes overall economic efficiency. So why the ongoing debate?  That is the question of the century since the discussion to make DST permanent has been brought up over the last century or so. And yes, we will all tend to feel a little out of sorts for a while so until then, I suppose I will keep asking…

The Gist…

  • The debate to make DST permanent has been going on for a long time now without any resolution

  • There are two sides to this issue: and each has their own economic, financial and health reasons.

  • Those who support keeping the current system say that it keeps crime rates low, increases economic activity, and promote healthy and active lifestyles

  • Those who are against it claim that it increases adverse health outcomes for those who are already susceptible, reduces worker productivity and can be expensive as well as disruptive.

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