Europeans Work 19 Percent Fewer Hours Than Americans Do

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Photo: Thomas Jackson/Getty Images

One of the many reasons America is “already great” is that workers in this country waste a lot less time on their families, friends, and hobbies than workers in other Western nations do. Relative to Europeans, Americans work more on weekends, take fewer vacation days, and retire much closer to the time of their deaths. (Last week, the number of Americans working two or more jobs hit an eight-year high.)

A new study tries to put some precise numbers on exactly how much more people work in this shining city on a hill. Here are a few different ways to characterize their findings:

-The average European adult works 19 percent fewer hours than the average American.

-The average European works 258 fewer hours a year.

-The average European’s workday ends one hour earlier — every weekday — than the average American’s does.

Notably, this comparison is not restricted to workers, and thus reflects disparate rates of retirement and involuntary unemployment. So, some of the overall discrepancy in hours worked is due to economic challenges in certain parts of Europe — Italians work 29 percent fewer hours than Americans do, but their country also has a 12.4 percent unemployment rate.

Still, the average German works roughly six fewer hours a week than the average American, and their economy is thriving, with an unemployment rate lower than our own. And workers in the United Kingdom — the European nation most culturally proximate to our own — put in four fewer hours each week than we do.

As Bloomberg notes, cultural explanations for Americans’ long workweeks don’t pass muster — in the early 1970s, workers in the U.S. and western Europe worked roughly the same number of hours.

So what explains the big difference? The short answer seems to be union density and labor regulation. In 1983, 20.1 percent of American workers belonged to a union. Today, only 11.1 percent do.

“The data strongly suggest that labor regulation and unionization appear to be the dominant factors explaining the differences between the United States and Europe,” a 2006 paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research found.

The more power workers have over labor conditions in a given country, the less time those workers tend to spend at their jobs.