Study: Americans Work 19 Percent Longer Than Europeans

Chris Gaetano
Published Date:
Oct 18, 2016

Americans are generally known for working longer hours with fewer vacations but a recent economic study comparing them to European workers has found that, more precisely, Americans work 19 percent more hours per year on average than Europeans, according to Bloomberg. The paper, set to be published by the Institute for the Study of Labor in Bonn, looked at national labor force surveys from 1983 to 2011 to construct hours worked per person on an aggregate level for different demographic groups in 18 European countries and the U.S. It found that, overall, Europeans put in 258 fewer hours per year than Americans, or about an hour less each weekday. 

Much of this difference, according to the paper, comes from the fact that Europeans generally take more vacations than Americans. One survey said that 23 percent of Americans have no paid vacation days or paid holidays at all. For those who do have paid vacation, the average number of days is 13 (though this is heavily skewed by high paying jobs with generous vacation benefits and low-paying jobs that have almost none.) By contrast, France mandates 30 paid vacation days a year for workers. Even when Americans have vacation days, they're also unlikely to use them all: another study said that fewer than half of workers who have paid vacation days use most or all of them. 

However, as Bloomberg points out, success depends not just on how much time someone puts into the job, but how productive they are when doing it. The study found great variation in terms of productivity, defined as GDP per hour worked, compared to the U.S. depending on what region of Europe one examined. For example, eastern Europe's labor productivity was 45 percent lesser than that of the U.S. while, by contrast, northern Europe had a labor productivity 17 percent higher. 

Despite this, long hours might be a thing of the past for many workers as technology advances. In fact, the problem may be not enough hours as more and more jobs become automated. This has led some to ponder what exactly how economies will shift into what a recent article in Vox calls a future without jobs. This is not just something that blue collar workers need to worry about either. A recent report by McKinsey indicated that even CEOs need to be aware of the potential impacts. 

"We estimate that activities consuming more than 20 percent of a CEO’s working time could be automated using current technologies. These include analyzing reports and data to inform operational decisions, preparing staff assignments, and reviewing status reports," said the report. 

In fact, said the report, 45 percent of work activities today could be automated with technology that is already here, saying nothing of new advances. This even includes accounting. Already software can perform the simple repetitive tasks that characterize basic accounting work: Wal-Mart, for example, recently realized that it can replace 7,000 store accounting and invoicing positions with automated software platforms. But firms are looking to hand over even more complex tasks to the computers. For instance, KPMG recently made a deal with IBM's Watson to assist with tax, audit, advisory and other professional services. An article in last year pointed out that AI can also play a role in contract review and risk management.

Accounting firms are also looking to the block chain technology that powers virtual currencies like bitcoin, with the Big Four having recently held a roundtable talk about how it can be applied to audits. Not only is it being looked at for the possibility of real-time audits, fraud detection, and even compliance evaluations

If you're worried about this, don't sell all your worldly possessions and move into a yurt in Mongolia just yet, though. Despite automation of basic tasks, presumably humans will still need to be around to practice judgment and professional skepticism. While the day may come where computers can do even that, for now there will still be a place for humans in the industry. 

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