Workaholics

Senior Fellow Kevin A. Hassett
Senior Fellow
Kevin A. Hassett
While these pages have been critical of Europe's massive welfare states in the past, one must concede that Europeans have vastly superior cocktail parties. The potables tend to weigh in their favor, but the conversation does as well: Work is hardly ever mentioned. Go to an American cocktail party, and you are bound to be queried endlessly about your employment. Americans need to identify one another's jobs, as if knowing a man's occupation reveals everything about him.

Americans are obsessed with work--a conclusion made evident by data. Erik Hurst and Mark Aguiar, two economists with the National Bureau of Economic Research, recently used five decades' worth of surveys to measure trends in American time use. They found that the time the average American dedicates to leisure activities increased 6.75 hours per week over four decades, between 1965 and 2003.

Source: World Tourism OrganizationAlmost all of that increased leisure time, however, came from a reduction in time spent working at home. Back in the 1960s, chores like dishwashing took hours out of every week. Now we all have dishwashers. Time spent on the job declined only a smidgen.

Our steady commitment to work is a bit of a surprise if you think our appetite for leisure should have grown in tandem with our wealth. But our preoccupation, so to speak, with work is even more startling if you compare us with workers in other countries. The accompanying chart indicates the average number of vacation days that are allocated to workers for a sample of countries. On average, the Italians, French, and Germans have about three times more vacation days than Americans. The Japanese may have a reputation for diligence, but they are economic libertines compared with the Americans.

If one looks at the number of those vacation days that are actually used, the story gets even worse. Expedia.com's 2007 International Vacation Deprivation Survey found that Americans, on average, leave about three vacation days unused in a typical year--again, more than any other country.

Even though Americans have the fewest vacation days, they leave the most on the table. Which is unfortunate, since a summer vacation restores the spirit and, studies show, increases job satisfaction (and perhaps productivity) when one returns.

Let's each do our part to improve the mental health of America's workforce. Head directly to the beach--economist's orders.

Kevin A. Hassett is a senior fellow and director of economic policy studies at AEI.

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