Special Report

Countries Where People Work Least

As the global economic recovery grinds to a halt, many workers feel the increased pressure of holding on to their jobs and putting bread on their tables. Some may hold several jobs or simply put in more hours at work. Indeed, in 2011, for the second year in a row, the average hours worked per person increased in the United States. But this is not the case among all developed nations. In fact, while people in countries like the U.S. and Spain increased their hours worked, the average for developed nations fell slightly.

Earlier this month, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) released its 2012 Employment Outlook. The outlook paints a picture of the current labor markets in 32 member states, most of which are located in the Europe. In several countries, the average hours worked per year has fallen by more than 20. Based on the OECD report, 24/7 Wall St. identified the 10 countries where people work the least.

The average American worked 1,797 hours in 2011, or about 34.5 hours per week. In the countries on our list, the average hours worked was 1,611 or less, or the equivalent of 30 hours per week. In Austria, the average employed person worked just 1,330 hours, or a bit more than 25 hours per week.

Hours worked in some of these countries declined further over the past year. In Denmark, the average hours worked fell by 40 hours for each of the past two years. In Luxembourg, they fell by 51 hours between 2010 and 2011 alone.

The changes in hours worked on average can be affected, in part, by an actual increase or decrease in the amount of time full-time employees spend at work. However, a review of the data shows that part-time employment is also a major contributor to these changes. Of the 10 countries with the fewest average hours worked, nine were among the top 15 nations with the most part-time workers relative to the total working population, and four were in the top five. Netherlands has the highest proportion of part-time employees at 37.2%. That is more than double the OECD average. In the United States, only 12.6% of the total workforce work part-time.

The countries on this list are among the wealthiest in the OECD, which generally represents the more developed nations. Of the 10 countries with the fewest average hours worked, nine have the highest gross domestic product per capita. The exception is France, which has the eleventh-highest GDP.

Exemplifying the wealth of these nations, wages are also extremely high. The average U.S. worker earned a little more than $30 per hour in 2011. In these 10 countries, workers earned at least $31.27 per hour, and as much as $48.82 (in Denmark) per hour.

Mark Keese, head of OECD’s employment division, told 24/7 Wall St. that the wealth and productivity of a nation plays a large part in the structure of employment in the country. One component of this is the technological sophistication of industry. “Generally, richer countries can and should see reductions in hours worked … basically, you have stronger productivity performance and eventually you’re replacing workers with machines, which allow you to cut back on the number of hours of work.”

24/7 Wall St. reviewed the OECD’s 2012 Employment Outlook to identify the countries with the fewest hours worked in 2011. The 26 countries we reviewed were all members of the OECD. We excluded four because current data were not available. We also compared these countries via other metrics provided by the OECD, including GDP per capita, unemployment and a variety of other employment and quality-of-life data for 2011 or the most recent available year.

These are the 10 countries where people work the least.

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