Why Americans Work So Much

Why Americans Work So Much

Why Americans Work So Much

In this excerpt from Spending the Time: The Most Valuable Resource, Daniel examines American willingness to spend more time working than in other equally wealthy countries. (Why Americans Work So Much)

The typical work week in America – less than forty hours per week – doesn’t seem hard. In Western Europe, the work week is also about forty hours. Yet somehow, the actual hours worked per year in the US exceed those in Western Europe, often much higher.

The explanation is straightforward: American workers have far fewer holidays and far fewer public holidays than other workers.

Over the past forty years, people in other wealthy countries have decided to accept a slightly lower annual income to work less time. American’s have not.

There are various explanations for the Americans’ “extra” time at work. Perhaps a particular US work ethic places more importance on time spent at work than in other countries.

Maybe, but the work orientation of Americans was the same as it was in Western Europe in the 1970s, and it’s hard to believe that cultures have changed and dwindled so much in such a short time that it allowed Americans to do what they are now. They are doing a lot more work than Europeans. (Why Americans Work So Much)

Why Americans Work So Much

Another explanation is that US taxes on work – payroll and labor income taxes – are lower than in most wealthy countries, giving workers an incentive to seek more employment and employers to offer it to them. Huh.

It is difficult to attribute this argument as Americans’ tax rates are fifty years lower than those in Europe. Yet, by the end of the 20th century, Americans’ working hours were much shorter than Europeans.

Japanese tax rates are also low, yet Japanese work less than Americans. US-European differences in tax rates cannot explain differences in working hours, even taking some of the higher estimates of the effect of taxes on labor force participation or weekly work hours.

Another possibility is that an argument made in the early 1990’s that Americans work more complicated because the barrage of advertising that attacks us daily leads us to more stuff – leading to consumerism – that our The additional work to be done by the

The argument’s premise was correct – we are constantly obsessed with ads, including now when we surf the web, but so are people from other wealthy countries.

Unless one recognizes that advertisers than Europeans or others more easily manipulate Americans, why should they be more inclined to “things” than people elsewhere?

More importantly, why should we care if the people choose to work a lot? The point isn’t that I work out a lot – it’s my choice.

Instead, I can be addicted to work – I can be a workaholic, someone who can’t let go and suffers from withdrawal symptoms when I don’t work.

So what if I’m a workaholic – isn’t it my own business? No, I am nothing more than a drug addict, a three-pack-a-day cigarette smoker, or an alcoholic in my own business. (Why Americans Work So Much)

Why Americans Work So Much

If I am a workaholic & a high-paid, highly placed, influential person, my work style will spread over my subordinates’ work time.

Executives will work for long hours and insist that their assistants do the same if they want to keep their jobs.

Assistants will work those long hours and remain in their jobs, as they are paid more than those starting fresh elsewhere.

Workaholics have a similar effect on their families. I can work longer hours in my later years as I become a workaholic, working longer hours and enjoying less rest with my wife than she wants to.

We have a higher family income as a result, but my wife happily leaves a few extra dollars so that she can enjoy the fun with me.

She’s better off divorcing me but not as good as if I worked for less time, earned less, and spent more time with my partner.

Workaholism is an addiction that affects other people. It generates what economists call “external” adverse effects on others that we generate from our freely chosen activities.

Discussion of why the Americans’ work habits are now different from those of other wealthy countries has been either negative, theoretical, or institutional. Still, these explanations are consistently using people’s behavior.

They also provide strong indications on how public policy can be changed to improve the work lives of Americans.

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