This article has been updated in 2023 with the latest publicly available data across numerous reputable sources. We, as Americans, work too many hours. If you don’t believe so, check out the following data points that compare us to our peers around the world. Americans are often referred to as lazy, but we are far from it. We work hard, we are productive, and we work a lot of hours – with very little paid holiday, vacation, and parental leave to show for it. Let’s break down some data to prove this point.
American Work-Life Balance (Labor Participation Rate & Parental Leave)
- On work and family life balance, “Among married-couple families with children, 96.5 percent had at least one employed parent in 2021, and in 62.3 percent of these families both parents were employed”. Furthermore, 71.2% of mothers of children age 18 or lower work today. I don’t care who stays home and who works in terms of gender (work opportunity equality should be for all – which gender stays home is a family choice), but when all adults are working within a household with children, that’s a huge hit to family and free-time in the American household.
- The U.S. is the only country in the Americas without a national paid parental leave benefit. The average is over 12 weeks of paid leave anywhere other than Europe, and over 20 weeks in Europe.
- Zero industrialized nations are without a mandatory option for new parents to take parental leave. That is, except for the United States.
American Average Hours Worked Per Day, Per Year, Per Week, & Productivity:
- Of the 38 OECD countries, the U.S. joins only Australia, New Zealand, and the UK with no statutory maximum length of the work week.
- According to BLS time-use surveys, full-time employed females in the U.S. work an average of 8.28 hours per day, while full-time employed males work an average of 9.05 hours per day. Without vacation/holidays, full-time male employees in the U.S. would work an average of 2,353 hours per year and full-time female employees in the U.S. would work an average of 2,152 hours per year.
- According to OECD stats, U.S. workers work an average of 1,791 hours per year versus an OECD country average of 1,716. This is 442 more hours per year than German workers, 294 more hours per year than United Kingdom (UK) workers, 301 more hours per year than French workers, and 184 more hours per year than Japanese workers. Of all OECD countries, only the workers in Chile, Mexico, Greece, Korea, and Costa Rica average more hours worked per year.
- Using data by the U.S. BLS, the productivity per American worker has increased 434% since 1950. One way to look at that is that it should take less than one-quarter the work hours, or less than 10 hours per week, to afford the same standard of living as a worker in 1950 (in other words: our standard of living should be over 4 times higher than it is). Why isn’t this happening? Someone is profiting, it’s just not the average American worker.
American Paid Vacation Time & Sick Leave:
- There is not a federal law requiring paid sick days in the United States.
- The U.S. remains the only industrialized country in the world that has no legally mandated annual leave.
- Then there’s this depressing stat (graph below) on average paid vacation time in industrialized countries. In every industrialized country except Canada and Japan (and the U.S., which averages 13 days/per year), workers get at least 20 paid vacation days, on average. In France and Finland, they get 30 – an entire month off, paid, every year.
The Impact of Too Much Work
I’m not telling you to work less hours. If you genuinely love what you do and are doing it for the right reasons, you are more than entitled to spend all of your waking hours plugging away and tie your identity nearly 100% to your job.
But, for many of us, more work leads to more stress and a lower quality of life without time to unwind, take care of our homes, spend time with our loved ones, enjoy our hobbies, connect with friends, and generally live a more balanced life. Stress is the #1 cause of health problems – mentally and physically. And there are few things that stress us out on a consistent basis like work does, especially when it takes away from all of the other things that life has to offer.
American Workers are the Outliers
And, if all of this data tells us anything, it’s that we are the outliers, not the norm, in the working world. Why are we the outliers?
- Our companies fairly ruthlessly fire and lay workers off with “at will” employment laws protecting them.
- American workers tend to undervalue and are insecure about the worth that they provide. The merits of the “free market” and “meritocracy” are continually drilled in to our brains.
- American workers generally don’t fight for our working rights. We take what is given to us.
- The decline of labor unions has led to less paid time off and other leave benefits. The U.S. has the 3rd lowest trade union participation rate of OECD countries on record, at just 9.9% of the workforce. That rate has been trending downward for decades.
- Cultural value of money over everything else. We love money, we want more of it, and we think money can buy happiness. And the more we work, the more we get paid. Or, so the theory goes.
- It’s been drilled into our heads that we are lazy compared to emerging market counterpart workers in India, Mexico, China, and other parts of Asia. Who isn’t? And what is our mental image of the work environments in those locales? To validate those fears, our jobs are being outsourced to cheap labor in those countries. In reality, the U.S. trails only a handful of countries in productivity per worker per country.
- Our legislative branch of the government (on both sides of the aisle) has been bought and as a result has shied away from passing laws that protect workers that every other industrialized nation has passed.
What we All Need to Remember
What we all need to remind ourselves is that it doesn’t have to be this way.
- It’s OK to ask to move to fewer hours at work.
- It’s OK to take an occasional week-long vacation and unplug.
- It’s OK to ask to work remotely from time-to-time.
- It’s OK to take a month of unpaid leave while you raise a child.
- It’s OK… you get the idea.
Don’t let life pass you by in the name of fear, circumstance, greed, or misguided hopes. Sometimes you just need to draw a line in the sand and say “enough is enough”.
Americans are Overworked Discussion:
- Do you think we work too hard or too much?
- Do you like the cultural norm around your workplace on working hour expectations?
- How have you been able to limit unhealthy overworking habits?