US Work Life: Grim Realities

Writing on “The Ladders” job search site, Jane Burnett makes an interesting argument: for the first time since 2005, a majority of Americans say they are satisfied with their jobs because they have reduced their expectations for their quality of life and work.(1)

American workers are working harder and getting less certainly than workers in Europe.

  • Sweden has a 6-hour work day.
  • France and The Netherlands have 4-day work weeks.
  • Productivity in the US and France is within rounding error, despite the shorter work week in France.(2)

Productivity is slowing in industrialized countries and is no longer linked to growth in real wages (wage change adjusted for inflation).

American workers put in longer hours each year than do workers in 22 other industrialized countries. German workers put in 1,368 hours per year (lowest) versus 1,786 for US workers. What would you do with 400 hours more free time?


What do workers get for those hours?

According to US News, the top countries in terms of quality of life are

  1. Switzerland
  2. Canada
  3. United Kingdom
  4. Germany and
  5. Japan(4)

In all five countries, workers work less than in the US. The US ranks 18th in terms of quality of life.

The definition of quality of life used by US News includes

  • Good job market
  • Affordability
  • Economic stability
  • Family friendly
  • Income equality
  • Political stability
  • Safety
  • Public education system
  • Public health system



  1. Jane Burnett, “The sad reason more Americans are happy at work,: The Ladders, 5 September 2017.
  2. OECD, “Continued slowdown in productivity growth weighs down on living standards,” 18 May 2017.
  3. OECD.

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