NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


July 12, 2004

It seems Europe's long siesta -- shorter work weeks and month long vacations -- has finally reached its limit. A victim of chronic economic stagnation, deteriorating public finances, and competition from former Soviet bloc countries and Asia has impressed upon Europeans that they simply have to work longer hours, say observers.

  • The French, who in 2000 trimmed their workweek to 35 hours in hopes of generating more jobs, are now talking about lengthening it.
  • Siemens, one of Germany's largest employers, is about to lower its labor costs by extending work hours from 35 to 40 per week and eliminating annual bonuses that paid for vacations and Christmas expenses.

Shorter work weeks, erroneously thought to increase the number of workers, has done little to ease European unemployment:

  • Europeans work an average of 10 percent fewer hours a year than Americans; Germans with the lightest schedule work about 18 percent fewer hours.
  • The French have an average of 25 vacation days a year, while the Germans get 30 days; the average in the United States is 12 days.
  • Unemployment in the United States in 2002 was 5.8 percent, while in Germany it was 8.1 percent, France 9.0 percent, and Spain 11.4 percent.

"We have created a leisure society, while the Americans have created a work society," says Klaus F. Zimmermann, the president of the German Institute for Economic Research.

Source: Mark Landler, "Europe Reluctantly Deciding It Has Less Time for Time Off," New York Times, July 7, 2004.


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