Americans Happy in spite of Longer Work Week, Less Vacation

I always read these statistics comparing Americans' and Europeans' work schedules with a bit of skepticism. Most of them seem framed to suggest that Americans are either incapable of fun or under the Man's thumb -- neither of which I have found true in experience. Maybe it is just because I like my job, and I think that productive labor in a job that you enjoy is the root of lasting happiness.

Anyway, it turns out that Americans are by and large happy and on average happier than most European workers:

The truth is that most Americans don't feel particularly shackled. To begin with, an amazingly high percentage of us like our jobs. Among adults who worked 10 hours a week or more in 2002, the General Social Survey (GSS) found that 89% said they were very satisfied or somewhat satisfied with their jobs. Only 11% said they were not too satisfied or not at all satisfied.

Of course, some would argue this statistic must be hiding big differences between people with "good" jobs and those with "bad" jobs. Presidential candidate John Edwards, in an argument fit for the French, tells us that we are two nations: "One America that does the work, another America that reaps the reward."

No doubt there is great job dissatisfaction among people with low incomes and little education--the folks working in factories and on farms; the people who sell you socks and serve you lunch--right? Wrong. There is no difference at all between those with above- and below-average incomes: nine in 10 are satisfied, as are people without college degrees. 87% of people who call themselves "working class" are satisfied.

But even if we are satisfied with our jobs, might we still be happier at the beach? Imagine asking people something like this: "If you were to get enough money to live as comfortably as you would like for the rest of your life, would you continue to work or would you stop working?" Certainly a high percentage would answer in the affirmative? Wrong again: In 2002, the GSS found that number to be less than a third of all workers. And once again, there is no difference between those at different levels of income or education. 69% of working class folks say they would keep working even if they didn't have to.


This may be one reason why Americans tend to score better than Europeans on most happiness surveys. For example, according to the 2002 International Social Survey Programme across 35 countries, 56% of Americans are "completely happy" or "very happy" with their lives, versus 44% of Danes (often cited in surveys as the happiest Europeans), 35% of the French and 31% of Germans. Those sweet five-week vacations and 35-hour workweeks don't seem to be stimulating all that much félicité. A good old-fashioned 50-hour week might be a better option.

Read the whole thing.

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..."If you were to get enough money to live as comfortably as you would like for the rest of your life, would you continue to work or would you stop working?" Certainly a high percentage would answer in the affirmative? Wrong again..

I think this statement is misleading. While I do not have statistical proof, most people I know would want to work but not necessarily do their current job at the current level. It also seems like one of those questions where you can't really answer. None of my friends know what a life is like where you don't *have* to work.

As for myself. I would prefer not to work, but because I have so many other hobbies and interests that I find more interesting to do than work. Perhaps I just need to find a more interesting job.

I've read it. It's pretty questionable. For example:

This may be one reason why Americans tend to score better than Europeans on most happiness surveys

But do they, really? I'm not at all convinced on the basis of the data given, and it's not hard to find different data (eg Here we have a conclusion drawn from 4 data points cherry-picked from one survey - no P-values, no quantified trends, just an assertion. And while I don't have access to the raw data, I do notice that the 2002 ISSP survey (presumably the survey referred to) was on "Family and Changing Gender Roles"...

An uncharitable person might almost suspect that the AEI isn't presenting an entirely unbiased interpretation here.

I also note that while the thrust of the article is ostensibly about a comparison between US and European work patterns, said comparison doesn't actually show up until the last paragraph of any susbstance - most of the article is either anecdote or intra-US comparisions.

Still, if you're happy working a 50 hour week and only getting a fortnights vacation, good luck to you. Me, I'll stick with my 30 hour week, my 5 weeks paid vacation, and my extensive collection of hobbies and interests.

As an American in the working class I will tell you that I would happily quit working were it an option. Just about everyone I know would like to do something productive with their lives, but it probably isn't what they are doing now.

Give me 30 hour work weeks with 5 weeks vacation please! I'm tired, so very tired of this 40-50 hour BS. I can afford to live on less, I just can't find a job that doesn't require me to be there that much.

One of the factors this article does not take into account is that we have a culture in which it is engrained that we identify ourselves by what kind of job we have. In Europe the type of job is much less important in realtionships, friendships and casual communication between families.
This "identification through job classification" works against what would be healthy for us: working less hours, but more concentrated, focused and productive.