Ran across an interesting article in the UK's Daily Telegraph. Written by Harvard historian Niall Ferguson, it discusses the decline of work in Europe vs. the United States. While I was aware of some of the statistics, such as the lengthier vacations and shorter work weeks, other numbers were new to me.

There is, of course, the disparity in unemployment rates. 4.6% in the US over the last decade as compared with 9.2% for the EU. ButI had not previously considered the raw numbers of participation in the work force. Remember, unemployment only measures those who are looking for work and cannot find it. It does not measure those able adults who have no job, and are not looking for one.

Between 1973 and 1998, the percentage of the American population in employment rose from 41 to 49 per cent. But in Germany and France, the equivalent percentage fell to, respectively, 44 and 39 per cent.
So the U.S. has opened up a ten point lead in this stat. And this number is all the more remarkable, I suspect, because the U.S. has more people in prison (and thus not a part of the work force) and has more able women who choose to stay at home and raise their children. Despite those disparities, Americans are still outworking Germany and France in this category.

Then there are the strikes. It seems like some large segment of European workers are going on strike at any given point. And usually its workers who really impact the daily lives of Europeans, such as transit worker or gas attendent strikes. So few would dispute that Europeans are more likely to strike than their U.S. counterparts. But have you ever seen this quantified in some way? I had not. But Professor Ferguson provides an interesting look at this phenom:

Between 1992 and 2001, the Spanish economy lost, on average, 271 days per thousand employees as a result of industrial action. For Denmark, Italy, Finland, Ireland and France, the figures lay between 80 and 120. The figure for America was just 50.

After noting disparities in sick days and the much more rapid aging of the EU population, Professor Ferguson shows that U.S. workers, well, simply work more:

But perhaps the most striking of all the differences between American and European working patterns, however, relates to working hours. In 1999, according to figures from the OECD, the average American in employment worked just under 2,000 hours a year (1,976). The average German worked 1,535 - 22 per cent less.

According to a recent American study, the average Frenchman works a staggering 32 per cent less. The journalist Madeleine Bunting has recently lamented that British workers are being pushed towards the American model, but the British worker is still working 12 per cent less than his American counterpart.

Now, I can't say I was shocked by any of this, though it offered information that I had not thought of before. What really surprised me was that this phenomenon is of rather recent origins. I had kinda assumed that these disparities, though perhaps lessened in the past, were long existing differences in European and U.S. culture. Not necessarily, so. When it comes to hours worked, for example:

This gap between American and European working hours is of surprisingly recent origin; 25 years ago, it didn't exist. Between 1979 and 1999, the average US working year lengthened by 50 hours, nearly four per cent. But the average German working year shrank by 12 per cent. The same was true elsewhere in Europe.
In fact, as Professor Ferguson points out, the decline of work in Europe has coincided very closely with the decline of religion. As is well known, Americans are a much more religious people than Europeans. The disparity is tremendous:

In the Netherlands, Britain, Germany, Sweden and Denmark, less than one in 10 of the population now attends church at least once a month. Only in Catholic Italy and Ireland do more than a third of the population worship on a monthly basis or more often.

By contrast, more than twice as many North Americans as Europeans attend religious services once a week or more. And scarcely any Americans could be characterised as atheists, compared with 15 per cent of Europeans.

Ferguson concludes his piece by suggesteing that there is a causal relationship at work here. The decline of religion in the U.K., or perhaps the rise of atheism/secularism, has caused the decline of work. Unfortunately, Ferguson simply notes the coincidence of these two trends as an indication of the causation, but he realizes that he has not yet proved his case (or even tried). He closes with some self mocking: "If I weren't on holiday, I'd write a book about it."

The irony is that he apparently has written a book on it. Titled, "Economics, Religion, and the Decline of Europe." It will be available later this year.

I know I'll pick up a copy.


BK said…
Of similar note, according to WorldNetDaily, (link to http://www.worldnetdaily.com/news/article.asp?ARTICLE_ID=39684 for story), Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, it's possible belief in hell is the reason some national economies sizzle more than others.

"'In countries where large percentages of the population believe in hell, there seems to be less corruption and a higher standard of living,' the July review states.

"The report examines 35 countries, including the United States, charting out the percentage of people who believe in hell, along with per capita income.

"Using figures from the United Nations Human Development Report 2003 and 1990-1993 World Values Survey, U.S. residents have the world's highest income at $34,320, and 71 percent of citizens say they believe in hell.

"Ireland, which ranks fourth in numbers of hell believers at 53 percent, had the second-highest income, at $32,410 per capita."

But what the report gives with one hand, it takes away with the other.

"But the report also shows the country with the highest percentage of hell believers – Turkey, at 85 percent – had one of the lowest incomes on the list: $5,890."

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