- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 29, 2005

Americans work more than Western Europeans, spending almost 50 percent more hours

per year in paid employment than, for example, Germans.

In the early 1970s, Americans and Europeans worked at similar rates. Since then, a gap has continually expanded.

Now, Americans of working age work 46.2 weeks per year. The average in France is 40.5 weeks, while in Sweden it is 35.4.

Steven J. Davis of the University of Chicago and Alberto Alesina of Harvard University examined the data and came to different conclusions.

According to Mr. Davis’ research, higher tax rates in Europe discourage employees from working long hours. This leads to less work time in the market sector and more work time at home. With high taxes, the “shadow economy” — composed of those who seek undocumented income to avoid taxes — also grows.

Therefore, in rich countries with high taxes, people will work less, Mr. Davis said last week in a discussion at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research.

“The tax rate cannot be the whole story,” Mr. Alesina said. Although he agreed that taxes are part of the picture, he said a primary reason Europeans work less is that they have stronger labor unions.

The work force in Western European countries is far more unionized than in the United States, he said, and unions “introduce regulations that reduce work hours.”

Some analysts have called the “work gap” a result of long-standing differences in U.S. and European cultures, saying American culture — rooted in the Calvinist beliefs of early Puritan settlers — promotes “workaholism,” while Europeans historically have placed a higher value on leisure.

Not so, Mr. Alesina said, pointing to statistics that show Europeans worked more hours than Americans as recently as the 1960s. Mr. Davis said the shift demonstrates how government policy influences culture.

“Culture does partly arise from financial incentives that are in place for a long time,” Mr. Davis said, noting that immigrants are attracted to the American entrepreneurial spirit in places such as the Silicon Valley.

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