Why the Germans are happy in their work

AS WE know, Americans work far longer hours than the Germans. Not only that, say Professors Richard Freeman and Linda Bell,(Department of Economics at Harvard and Haverford College. Lecture given at the LSE on Friday 21 October), the imbalance reflects a fundamental insecurity among the Americans, and an equal and opposite security - some would say smugness - among Germans.

The 'differences may partially reflect . . . responses to differences in labor market inequality, and present some suggestive evidence that people in settings with greater earnings inequality work more than those in settings with less inequality'.

The contrast has not passed unnoticed. 'The simple fact is that Germany is .

. . organised like a collective leisure park,' raged Chancellor Kohl last year. And a Berliner, interviewed by the Wall Street Journal in a coffee shop dismissed the Americans as 'crazy workaholics . . . because they haven't a clue how to live'.

The Americans still work fewer hours per year than the Japanese but outrank every other OECD country. Manufacturing workers in the US work 130 hours annually more than the average for European OECD countries, while German workers work for 131 hours less than the average - a difference of five hours a week.

Historically, this is surprising, since the Americans were among the first countries to institute an eight-hour day and five-day week. In the 1950s and 1960s, they worked far fewer hours than the Germans, whose post-war recovery was generally attributed to their long working hours ('Adenauer, Adenauer, Adenauer to every day' ran a musical sketch of the time). It was not until the 1980s that German hours dropped below American ones.

Puzzlingly, self-employed workers in both countries work much the same length of time as each other - and as their counterparts in other countries.

Yet, not only do the hours worked by employees differ, so does the attitude towards work. A 1988 EEC survey found that the Germans preferred to work even shorter working hours, while the number wanting more money from longer hours was roughly the same as those preferring to work shorter hours. The attitude - a complete change since the 1960s when Germans had a greater desire to work than Americans - has been reflected in continuing demands by German trade unions for even shorter hours.

At that time, the average working week varied between 35 and 40 hours, while the Americans not only worked longer hours every week but generally enjoyed only a fortnight's holiday every year, a third of the German norm.

The difference in attitudes also emerges from other surveys, which show that Americans are more likely to report that they work hard 'even if it interferes with the rest of (their) lives' than are Germans and other Europeans. Similarly, Germans are likely to respond that they work 'only as long as they have to'.

The authors observe that 'American workers are more 'into' work than are German and other European workers. In the same vein, Germans seem to be less 'into' work than their European and US counterparts. The puzzle is why large differences in actual hours worked have failed to quell American workaholicism and a German love of leisure.'

The explanation starts with tax: rates for a typical German worker are roughly 30 per cent higher than those for a US production worker, who also enjoys far less in terms of 'social income', such as welfare benefits, than a European counterpart. But these - and other points like the greater reward for overtime working in the US than in Germany - are relatively marginal.

The true explanation, say the authors, lies in the gross inequality of the American economic scene. 'In the decentralised US labor market, which produces relatively high earnings inequality among workers, the rewards to greater effort are large and the penalties to slack, substantial' - a marked contrast to the centralised, relatively egalitarian situation in Germany.

Moreover the situation feeds on itself. 'The harder Americans work and the harder they say they want to work, the more likely will the unequal system reward their good efforts.' Yet not only are the Germans slightly richer per head than the Americans, they maintained their lead during the 1980s.

Nevertheless, in terms of what they can buy ('purchasing power parities') it is the Americans who win. More work, lower taxes, do bring some reward.

Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol
art'Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' followed hoax reports artist had been arrested and unveiled
Life and Style

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

Stephanie first after her public appearance as a woman at Rad Fest 2014

Arts and Entertainment
James Blunt's debut album Back to Bedlam shot him to fame in 2004

Singer says the track was 'force-fed down people's throats'


Endangered species spotted in a creek in the Qinling mountains

Life and Style

Company says data is only collected under 'temporary' identities that are discarded every 15 minutes

peopleJust weeks after he created dress for Alamuddin-Clooney wedding
Life and Style
A street vendor in Mexico City sells Dorilocos, which are topped with carrot, jimaca, cucumber, peanuts, pork rinds, spices and hot sauce
food + drink

Trend which requires crisps, a fork and a strong stomach is sweeping Mexico's streets

Arts and Entertainment
George Lucas poses with a group of Star Wars-inspired Disney characters at Disney's Hollywood Studios in 2010

George Lucas criticises the major Hollywood film studios

football West Brom vs Man Utd match report: Blind grabs point, but away form a problem for Van Gaal
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style

Some experiencing postnatal depression don't realise there is a problem. What can be done?

Arts and Entertainment
Gotham is coming to UK shores this autumn
tvGotham, episode 2, review
Adel Taraabt in action for QPR against West Ham earlier this month
footballQPR boss says midfielder is 'not fit to play football'
First woman: Valentina Tereshkova
peopleNASA guinea pig Kate Greene thinks it might fly
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Corporate Actions Administrator / Operations Administrator

£25 - 30k: Guru Careers: A Corporate Actions Administrator / Operations Admini...

Customer Service Executive / Inbound Customer Service Agent

£18 - 23k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Customer Service Executiv...

ASP.NET Web Developer / .NET Developer

£60 - 65k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a ASP.NET Web Developer / ....

Operational Risk Manager - Asset Management

£60,000 - £80,000: Saxton Leigh: Our client is an leading Asset Manager based...

Day In a Page

Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album