Richer Nations' Citizens Work Less Than They Did in 1990 - Pacific Standard

Richer Nations' Citizens Work Less Than They Did in 1990

On average. Your own mileage may vary.
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(PHOTO: BIKERIDERLONDON/SHUTTERSTOCK)

(PHOTO: BIKERIDERLONDON/SHUTTERSTOCK)

The Economist has run some numbers from the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD), which is a club of industrialized nations, suggesting that people in those countries are working a lot less compared to more than a decade agowithout any dropoff in productivity. How can that be? Aren't we all supposed to be workaholics trapped in an Office Space-esque cycle of weekend shifts to pay hopeless rents?

Apparently not. The OECD stats suggest that working hours have fallen in all but one of 25 countries for which statistics were available. The one country where hours worked increased, slightly, was Israel. Hours tumbled most in Ireland and Korea. They've also fallen in the United States from 1990 to now, claims the magazine's analysis. That chart's here.

The OECD stats suggest that working hours have fallen in all but one of 25 countries for which statistics were available. The one country where hours worked increased, slightly, was Israel.

Now, working longer or shorter hours doesn't mean people aren't working a lot anyway, and working hard when they are at the office. The analysis compares hours in 1990 to hours now, and indirectly compares hours in one country to hours in another. But it doesn't actually talk about the number of hours, period. So if you're working less now, maybe that means you're working 60 hours a week now, instead of the 62 you worked back then. Neither number is 40, you'll notice. So it's hard to take the dropoff in hours as necessarily indicative of an increase in proper leisure time.

What tells us that, it turns out, is another OECD chart, this one claiming to rank "work-life balance" by country. There, things look a little more like the week you're actually having, where you wake up at six, walk the dog, feed the kids, pack lunches, commute, eat at your desk, commute, put the kids to bed, notice it's 10 p.m., and watch reality TV because you're exhausted. Work-life balance in Turkey, for example, was, on a scale of zero to 10, a zero. So hours worked fell, but really, so what? In Korea, where hours worked have plunged, work-life scored a middling five. In Spain, where people famously work until eight or nine at night, work-life was nevertheless an eight, one of the highest scores on the list.

Highest was Denmark, but then, Danes also pay more than 60 percent in taxes, which you figure they'd never put up with if life wasn't really pretty good outside of the office. Their hours fell on the Economist chart, too. At least it's really dark there half of the year, even if they head home in the middle of the afternoon.

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