Working Hard -- But Not at Home
Many people like to point out how Americans work harder -- and longer -- than the rest of the world. Many leftists like to point out that America's work / life balance is out of whack and that we need to spend more time at home and less time at the office.
But we don't really work all that much more. We just work differently.
Recent studies show that Europeans work much harder than most people think, and some, such as the Germans, work every bit as hard as we Americans do. An analysis of why makes it tough to say that one culture is somehow wiser than the other.
The key to the research is a simple question: What's work? The statistics we usually see focus on jobs that people get paid for, and by that measure Americans do indeed toil much more than Europeans. But that measure overlooks all the cooking, cleaning, lawn mowing, and other home-based labor that most people do. We don't get paid for it, but it's just as real as other work. When we count it as well as paid employment, the whole picture changes.
A thorough study by Richard Freeman of Harvard and Ronald Schettkat of Utrecht University found that Germans and Americans labor almost exactly the same amount. (The researchers note, "While our data deal with Germany and the U.S., our findings reflect the difference between EU and American models of capitalism more broadly.") The difference is that we do more market-based work, and Germans do more home-based work.
Now, I'd much rather do work that I get paid for than work that I don't get paid for. I'll take my leisurely home life over the Europeans leisurely vacations any day. Not to mention: America's model produces more jobs for women and low-skilled workers.
An important result is that we create far more service jobs than Germany does, and that nation's much smaller service sector is the main reason Germans are less likely to be employed, with an unemployment rate consistently higher than ours for the past 20 years.
New research by Richard Rogerson of Arizona State University finds that "almost all of the difference [between Europe and the U.S.] in hours of [paid] work is accounted for by differences in the service sector." Some people denigrate burger flipping and the like as dead-end jobs, but for young people whose skills aren't yet highly developed, they're gateway jobs that are the best economic use of their time.
Now carry the analysis a step further. The difference between Germans and Americans in work profiles is much greater for women than men. American women are far more likely to hold paid jobs than German women, and those who do are far more likely to earn higher pay.
The conventional wisdom is actually hilariously wrong in this instance. Americans only appear to work harder because we get paid for a higher percentage of the work we do. Americans can have just as much "free" time as Europe only if we agree to actually work for free!