More Charts of the Day: Italy Works Over 20% More Hours Than Germany and France

By Global Macro Monitor

The stereotype of lazy southern Europe and the hard working North is just not reflected in the data. We came across this BLS data set over the weekend which was very enlightening and, in part, smashes this widely held generalization.

First, a couple caveats. It is macro data — total number of hours worked in an economy divided by the number of people employed –, can subject to measurement errors, doesn’t take into account productivity per worker, and ignores deleterious labor policies that can contribute to unemployment.

Nevertheless, the data and charts below show that the average number of hours worked for an employed person in Italy – 1,778 hours in 2010 – is 25 percent higher than that of Germany’s 1,419 hours. The French are not far off. The average number of hours worked by an employed person in France was 339 hours less than in Italy, or Italy’s average hours worked was 23 percent higher than France. Surprising, no?

The data also interestingly shows that Ireland’s average number of hours worked increased dramatically from 2009-10, increasing by over 7 percent. The market seems to like it as Ireland’s bonds have been some of the best performing in the world since July with their sovereign spread over 10-year German bunds tightening more than 500 basis points.

Unfortunately, we didn’t have data for the rest of the European periphery.

(click on chart and table for better resolution)

  1. Dom K. Morgan says

    That is if we trust the Italian statistic bulletins……. 

    1. Edward Harrison says

      It is well known that the Germans work a light schedule and have six weeks’ paid vacation. For years now, the declining hours and the benefits of the system in Germany (vacation, Christmas money, state pension, government healthcare) have been an issue of debate.

      Equally, it is well known to informed euro watchers that for all their problems, Greeks and Italians in the private sector work longer hours than Germans, mostly because their worktime schedules have decreased slower than the Germans.

      See here as well:

      1. Oldrich says

        Which is the right thing. One my favourite quotations from my favourite philospher B. Russell “The morality of work is the morality of slaves”. 5 – 6 hours workday in the 21.century modern society should be about optimal. 

        1. Edward Harrison says

          Whether it is the right thing is a political question. From my perspective, the two weeks vacation that Americans are guaranteed and the lack of access to basic healthcare are huge deficits in the US economy. My opinion: 4 weeks vacation and guaranteed basic healthcare (annual checkups, emergency care) should be standard.

          As for productivity in Germany, another commenter made the real point that it depends on the value add of the business and less on the value add of the worker in terms of output per worker. If the industrial organisation of a society impedes innovation, then you get low productivity growth.

          I have a lot of other thoughts on this topic but that’s it for now.

          1. Oldrich says

            Sure it is a political question derived from one’s moral value judgement. I am a left-wing (as I commented here before) and I open about it.

  2. Lucaguarnieri74 says

    Not so surprising. Northern Italy regions show more productivity than many others country in Europe. 

  3. Broggi Samuel says

    This is a very interesting article. I knew that Italians had lower weeks of paid vacation than German, but overall I thought Germans had longer hours.
    Anyway, I’m not surprised to see that the first two countries are in Asia…

  4. Rumplestatskin says

    Imagine how productive the Germans would be if they worked 25% more hours! Talk about imbalances.

  5. Drs4614 says

    Could be because the Italian workforce is disproportionately male, meaning not only fewer women who tend to work shorter hours that men in general, but also that Italian men could work longer hours than French and German men because their wives stay home and do all the housework.

  6. Random Lurker from Italy says

    There is a common misunderstanding of “productive” as “hard working”.

    Average productivity is simply calculated as total GDP/total number of hours worked. The fact that in a country people work longer hours doesn’t increase productivity in any way.

    Plus, since productivity is calculated using GDP, it is based on “added value”, not on material productivity, so that changes in market value of products can change the value of productivity of their producers: for example, suppose that A is an Italian producer of t-shirts, and produces 1 t-shirt /hour with 3$ of materials and sells it for 5$. His productivity will be 2$/h.
    However, if Chinese producers start producing t-shirts at lower prices, A will be forced to sell those t-shirts for 4$: his productivity will drop to 1$/h, even if the material quantity of t-shirts produced didn’t change.

    Living in Italy I think that the problem is that Italy (and maybe other southern-european nations) specialized in low-tech fields, whose “added value” is falling for market reasons, thus causing the low (and actually falling) Italian productivity.

    I can’t find links now but it is known in Italy that we have a very high percentage of small businesses on total businesses; small businesses are often low tech and not innovative (contrary to mithology); also it is known that both Italy and Greece suffer from “brain drain”: many graduated students exit the home country because they can’t find jobs related to their skills – this is not a proof, but hints to the fact that Italian and Greek businesses are low tech, low added value, low specialization ones.

  7. Random Lurker from NY says

    Random Lurker from Italy makes a very good point that the industries in southern Europe tend to be low-tech and more labor-intensive than northern Europe. Its primary competitors in the global market place are Latin America, China, India, etc. but southern Europe has to compete with one hand tied behind its back because being in the Euro prohibits it from competing using its currency. Unless southern Europe develops a more “modern” industrialized economy – quickly – it’ll have to leave the Euro to at least give it a chance against currency manipulators like China.

  8. Another Lurker says

    This data is distorted by labour force participation: As Drs4614 says, countries where there is no accommodation for part-time work, mothers have to stay at home (or work full time). This increases hours worked for those who are working – but it decreases the employment rate.

    If you have a look in the statistics, you’ll see Germany at 69% employment rate, and Italy at 57%.

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