Since the 19th century various administrations have tried to curb some of the enthusiasm of capitalist entrepreneurs by limiting the standard working week. This has resulted in a hotch-potch of regulations in different countries, with various interactions with differing work ethics and different rates of national productivity.

The term "40-hour week" has (or had) particular resonance in British Commonwealth countries.

The recent introduction of a 35-hour working week in France caused some initial controversy.