The Externalities of Daylight Saving Time

Daylight saving time. Whitman College students know of it as a terrible weekend during midterms week where we loose one hour of much-needed sleep. But what is it actually good for? Do we need even need it?

Daylight saving time (DST) was made a policy in the US (except for in Arizona) during World War I to save energy. However, the California Energy Commission found energy savings to be 0.18 percent. People may use less electric lights due to the shift in daylight, but in some places they use more energy to run air-conditioners, mitigating the effects of DST; this costs Indiana residents about $9million each year (Feltman).

On average, people are 40 minutes sleep deprived the Monday following daylight saving time (DST). This is problematic for dangerous work environments; a 6% spike in workplace injuries and 67% increase in their severity in mining occupations on the Monday morning following DST. In less hazardous desk jobs, workers tend to surf the internet (cyberloafing) rather than being as productive as usual on the Monday after daylight saving time. A recent estimate extrapolates worker productivity to cost the American economy over $434 million annually due to the shift. What’s worse, when that amazing day in fall arrives when we gain an hour, people are not substantially more productive due to their increased sleep (Wagner and Barnes).

Not only is daylight saving time (DST) a problem for the economy, it has significant negative externalities on people’s health. During the first week of DST, there is a spike in heart attacks. Losing an hour of sleep increases stress and provides less time to recover overnight. Conversely, when the clock switches back in the fall, there is a decrease in heart attacks due to the increase in sleep and positive change in the circadian rhythm, regulating sleep, hunger and hormone levels. This coincides with an increase in suicides in Australian men in the week following DST (Welsh).

Some argue that while there is an increase in heart attacks, traffic and work accidents after we “Spring Forward”, there are health benefits to an extra hour of evening daylight, where Americans could walk or bike, play games and engage in other activities associated with healthy lifestyles. However, there is no evidence that we take advantage of the extra daylight; children in Australia and Europe do increase their time spent playing outside, but this is not true with US children. This translates into another defunct reason people employ to keep DST; increased activities in the evening due to more daylight has not been found to increase spending habits (Perry). Some businesses, such as the grill and charcoal industries, claim to gain $200 million in sales due to DST. But most businesses are hurt; with all the schedule-juggling and difficulties in getting US flights lined up with international flights not on DST, the Air Transport Association estimates that DST costs $147 million. Other businesses, such as Amtrak, shut down, halting overnight trains for an hour when clocks change in November, and trains are forced to overwork to make up lost time in the Spring to keep to the schedule (Feltman). This is further complicated by the fact that not all countries participate in DST, and not all switch their clocks at the same time.

In short, there are significant externalities associated with daylight savings time, the majority of them negative. It is important to be informed about all the potential outcomes, and make your decision based on knowing the costs and benefits of these externalities. There is potential policy implications in abolishing daylight saving time to increase the positive externalities on society; it remains to be seen if people are willing to break from this tradition, however.


Works Cited

Feltman, Rachel. “5 Myths About Daylight Saving Time.” The Washington Post. March 6, 2015. Web. 10 March 2015. <http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/five-myths-about-daylight-saving-time/2015/03/06/970092d4-c2c1-11e4-9271-610273846239_story.html>.

Perry, Susan. “The Arguments (health-related and otherwise) For Year-round Daylight Saving Time.” 9 March 2015. Web. 10 March 2015. <https://www.minnpost.com/second-opinion/2015/03/arguments-health-related-and-otherwise-year-round-daylight-saving-time>.

Wagner, David T. and Christopher M. Barnes. “The Economic Toll of Daylight Saving Time.” The New York Times. 6 March 2014. Web. 9 March 2015. <http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2014/03/06/daylight-saving-time-at-what-cost/the-economic-toll-of-daylight-saving-time>.

Welsh, Jennifer. “Daylight Saving Time is Bad For Health.” The Business Insider. 25 October 2013. Web. 9 March 2015. <http://www.businessinsider.com/health-and-economic-effects-of-daylight-saving-time-2013-10>.

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