NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Europeans Work Less, and More are Unemployed

September 8, 1998

Not only are work hours lower in Europe, but they are falling more rapidly than here. Annual work hours have fallen 8.3 percent in Germany in the last 10 years, while they have declined just 0.4 percent in the U.S.

Of course, over time all countries have seen sharp reductions in work hours.

  • In the last century, 10 hour days and 6 day workweeks were standard.
  • According to economist Angus Maddison, the average American worker spent 2,974 hours on the job in 1870.
  • This figure was about the same in Europe as well, where the lowest annual work hours were 2,935 in Austria.

According to the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, the average worker started working at the age of 13 in 1870 and life expectancy was just 43.5 years. Most workers were never able to retire at all and worked until they died.

There are those who believe that Americans are working too much and that the U.S. should adopt European-style labor policies. For example, most Europeans get four to six weeks of vacation per year, compared to just 1.5 to 2.5 weeks for Americans. But the Europeans pay a heavy price for their longer vacations in the form of higher unemployment. The unemployment rate is now above 11 percent in Germany, Italy and France. Naturally, such involuntary "vacations" are not accounted for in the work hours data.


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