This article is a new investigation into the controversial thesis, advanced by Benjamin and Kochin, that the high and persistent levels of unemployment in Britain between 1919 and 1939 were the result of a generous and liberally administered unemployment benefits scheme. By using a
case study of the inter-war iron and steel industry, we demonstrate that high benefit–wage ratios applied only to a small proportion of workers in this industry. We argue that the benefit–wage ratio was but a part of a complex web of factors determining the extent to which workers
voluntarily chose not to be fully employed. Much more importance, we argue, needs to be attached to the effects of an ageing workforce and the desire to secure employment for offspring. Viewed from this perspective patterns of short-time working at the industry level depended more on collective,
rather than individual, rationality.