NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Americans are More Productive and Working Longer

April 15, 2003

Today, most Americans find it hard to get all their work done in 40 hours. Meanwhile, millions of Americans are without work, even as many others are working mandatory overtime or far longer than they would if they had a real choice in the matter.

  • According to the International Labor Organization, Americans now work 1,978 hours annually, a full 350 hours -- nine weeks -- more than western Europeans.
  • The average American actually worked 199 hours more in 2000 than he or she did in 1973, a period during which worker productivity per hour nearly doubled.

What happened? In effect, the United States as a society took all of its increases in labor productivity in the form of money and consumer items instead of time. By contrast, over the past 30 years, Europeans have made a different choice, according to observer John de Graaf, to live simpler, more balanced lives and work fewer hours.

  • The average Norwegian, for instance, works 29 percent less than the average American -- 14 weeks per year -- yet his average income is only 16 percent less.
  • Western Europeans average five to six weeks of paid vacation a year; we average two.

Work and consumption are not necessarily bad, says Graaf, but producing and consuming can become the focus of a person's life -- at the expense of other values.

Source: John de Graaf, "Workweek Woes," New York Times, April 12, 2003.


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