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Say It Isn't So - Do Europeans Actually Work As Hard as Americans?

Since the name on the site is the HR "Capitalist", you can probably assume that I'm American, or at least a fan of any capitalist economic system that's based on merit.  If you assumed those things, you're right on both counts.  As a part of that mindset, I've long felt America is superior to the rest of the world when it comes to work ethic. 

The booming economies of China and India have shaken that broad statement a little bit, but I've alwaysDwight had Europe as a fallback.  The wide perception has always been that Europeans, with 35 hour work weeks and month-long vacations, value work-life balance to a great degree than we do in the US.  The flip-side/postive side of that picture for us is that we feel like we work harder.

A new study is out that shows that both views (Europe having more leisure time and the US working harder) might be a myth.  From Fortune's Geoff Colvin:

"The trouble with this narrative (America works harder than Europe) is that it's based on a myth. Recent studies show that Europeans work much harder than most people think, and some, such as the Germans, work every bit as hard as we Americans do. An analysis of why makes it tough to say that one culture is somehow wiser than the other.

The key to the research is a simple question: What's work? The statistics we usually see focus on jobs that people get paid for, and by that measure Americans do indeed toil much more than Europeans. But that measure overlooks all the cooking, cleaning, lawn mowing, and other home-based labor that most people do. We don't get paid for it, but it's just as real as other work. When we count it as well as paid employment, the whole picture changes.

A thorough study by Richard Freeman of Harvard and Ronald Schettkat of Utrecht University found that Germans and Americans labor almost exactly the same amount. (The researchers note, "While our data deal with Germany and the U.S., our findings reflect the difference between EU and American models of capitalism more broadly.") The difference is that we do more market-based work, and Germans do more home-based work.

That simple fact holds large implications. For starters, it means we're more likely to buy various goods and services that Germans are more likely to produce at home. For example, they spend more time preparing meals, while we spend more money on restaurant meals; as a society we do more of our hamburger flipping at McDonald's, while Hamburgers do more of it at home."

That sounds great, but it's not as simple as it sounds. Home-based work doesn't pay, which can have economic implications for countries as a whole.  I'll post on that next week.

For now, I'd like to welcome the Germans to the table of countries who work hard.  But what about the rest of the European Union?  Can I at least hold on to the picture of the US outworking France? 




When we stop outworking the French....I am moving to the moon.


Next week's post in two words:

comparative advantage


Enough Dwight for the rest of the decade, wouldn't you say? Every HR website, publication, blog, etc. has his mug on something. At least he has replaced the worn out Dilbert graphics.

Wally Bock

Hmmmmm …. It seems that, despite their best efforts to appear the same like a common currency and (almost) a constitution, it seems that the different countries in the EU do indeed have different cultures. Wow.

Todd Rogers

What does it say about the alleged variation between the two cultures when you encounter someone who enjoys his work so much AND it comes so naturally that the term "work," as in wage-labor, no longer applies? For example, what if I could find someone to pay me a generous and self-sustaining wage for hanging out with my son? Would I actually be performing a thing called "work?" Mick Jagger thinks not.


Dan and Chris - agree...

Richard - check out my other site - for the latest... (just joking)...

Wally and Todd - if you stop back by, give me more... Wally, you sound like you might be a little cynical on the union part of the EU, and Todd, need to hear more about what you mean....

Thanks - KD

Eric Antariksa

How about Asians? I am from Asia, and I think, Asians work harder (and longer) than anyone else on earth.

Anil Aphale

Woah !!!! Hold on there my friend. There is no way that people in the UK work a 35 hour week. most of the people I know including myself worek at least 50 sometime 60 hours a week. Please do not assume that because there is an EU we all "enjoy" month long vacations and 35 hour weeks.


As a Brit who has worked on the East Coast of the US for a major highly rated company, I can assure you that people work just as hard in the UK at paid employment. Americans get into work early, but I saw a lot of people leaving early and sneaking off early on a Friday... Attending conferences with their spouses (cross between vacation and work) and other reasons to be out of the office mean that US workers at virtually all levels do not work as hard as they like to think. Having spent time in Asia, I would vouch for much harder and longer working hours. The French probably do work the least though!


I'm curious as to how many people that have responded have actually worked in France, or if they are just basing their feedback on heresay. I worked in Paris for 10 years for a French software company, and I can confirm that my Gallic colleagues often worked longer hours than my US counterparts, consistently over 60 hour work weeks. Sure, there are French that work the 35 hours, but they are generally factory workers. The French do receive more vacation time (5-6 weeks vs. the US 2-3 weeks), and that factors in when the OECD calculates the number of hours worked per year per capita.


Erik - From my limited perspective, I think you are correct about work ethic in many Asian cultures. I wouldn't tag them with a cap on hours in a work week based on what I know...

Anil/Chris - England? Of course I expect England to work hard! The channel's all I need to separate you from the pack.

Julie - Thanks for the perspective on the French worker. I don't doubt that there are pockets that work hard, especially in emerging industries... Still, I can't give up the stereotype until I see some research that makes me go hmmmmm.... Like Colvin's cited research on Germany...

ALL - There's a new post up on the Capitalist talking about the market economy of Germany and it's effect on education levels of women. From the same research and article from Colvin....

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