The Corner

Why Western Europeans Work Less Than Americans

In his column today, Jonah analyzes the debate over whether President Obama will “Europeanize” the United States. He cites a famous statement from the late Pat Moynihan: “The central conservative truth is that it is culture, not politics, that determines the success of a society. The central liberal truth is that politics can change a culture and save it from itself.”

A few years ago, economists Alberto Alesina and Edward Glaeser of Harvard and Bruce Sacerdote of Dartmouth set out to answer an interesting question: “Why do western Europeans work so much less than Americans?” They noted that “hours worked per person were about the same in the U.S. and in Western Europe” during the early 1970s. However, “While Americans work today just about as much as in 1970, Europeans work much less.” Alesina, Glaeser, and Sacerdote concluded that “Europeans today work much less than Americans because of the policies of the unions in the seventies, eighties and part of the nineties and because of labor market regulations.”

Mark Steyn makes this point in his recent NR cover story. It is “tempting” to ascribe the transatlantic gap in work hours to “deeply ingrained cultural differences,” Steyn writes. “But, in fact, until the Seventies Americans and Europeans put in more or less identical work hours. What happened is that the Protobamas of the Continental political class legislated sloth, and, as is the way, the citizenry got used to it.”


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