Special Report

Countries Where People Work Least

10) United Kingdom
> Average annual hours per person: 1,611
> Average working hours per week: 31
> Average wage per hour: $31.27 (11th highest)
> 2011 unemployment rate: 8%

There has been a steady rise in annual unemployment rates in the United Kingdom. since 2008, when the rate was at 5.4%. Between 2007 and 2011, there was a 47-hour drop in the average annual hours worked in the U.K. This was paired with an average wage decline of 1% during the same time frame, even though there was an overall 0.5% increase in average wages for countries in the OECD report. The New Economics Foundation (NEF), a British think-tank, estimated in 2010 that a shorter workweek in the U.K. was inevitable if the government wanted to reduce unemployment. NEF stated there is an “an increasingly divided society with too much over-work alongside too much unemployment.” Indeed, the U.K. has the third-highest percentage of employees putting in 50 or more hours per week.

9) Finland
> Average annual hours per person: 1,578
> Average working hours per week: 30.3
> Average wage per hour: $33.63 (9th highest)
> 2011 unemployment rate: 7.9%

In 2011, Finland’s unemployment rate was just slightly below the OECD’s 8.2% average. While other countries have lower unemployment rates than Finland, the country combines high wages for those who are employed, the average being $33.63 an hour, with a cultural appreciation for integrating work and leisure. For example, saunas are treated as a viable place for business meetings and even foreign diplomacy. Additionally, only 3.66% of those who are employed in Finland work more than 50 hours per week. As a result, Finns have 14.89 hours a day for leisure and personal care, more than two-thirds of those countries for which leisure data was collected.

8) Luxembourg
> Average annual hours per person: 1,565
> Average working hours per week: 30.1
> Average wage per hour: $46.78 (2nd highest)
> 2011 unemployment rate: 4.9%

The number of working hours declined 3.2% between 2010 and 2011 in Luxembourg, much higher than the 0.2% drop for all the OECD countries studied. The country’s average annual wages during this time fell by about 2%. The country’s labor laws include a maximum of 40-hour work weeks, with few exceptions, and only 3.7% of employees work 50 or more hours per week. Luxembourg citizens enjoy a GDP per capita of almost $90,000, the highest of the OECD countries studied, and more than twice that of the next highest country, the Netherlands.

7) Denmark
> Average annual hours per person: 1,496
> Average working hours per week: 28.8
> Average wage per hour: $48.82 (the highest)
> 2011 unemployment rate: 7.7%

In 2011, Denmark had a 79.3% labor force participation rate, well above the 73.3% rate for the United States. Though participation actually has declined in recent years, from a high of 80.7% in 2008, having fewer workers in Denmark has not led to longer hours for current employees. Instead, the residents of Denmark worked an average of 1,496 hours in 2011, down 2.7% from an average of 1,538 in 2010 and 301 hours less than the average American. The average Dane had 16 hours a day to devote to leisure and personal needs, more than any other country surveyed by the OECD. One possible reason people may not feel obligated to work longer hours is that the average hourly wage in Denmark is $48.82, more than all other countries observed.

6) Ireland
> Average annual hours per person: 1,469
> Average working hours per week: 28.3
> Average wage per hour: $45.53 (3rd highest)
> 2011 unemployment rate: 14.6%

Suffering from the third-highest unemployment rate of the OECD countries studied, workers in Ireland who are able to keep their jobs have experienced a 5% reduction in their average annual working hours since 2007. Still, Irish workers’ wages averaged $45.53 per hour, more than double the average wage in Spain. The minimum wage in Ireland is high — as of 2010, it was $10.67. To compare, the U.S. federal minimum wage is $7.25. Economists and politicians in Ireland argue the high minimum wage is a barrier to job creation.