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Work and Leisure in the U.S. and Europe: Why so Different?


Alberto F. Alesina


Harvard University - Department of Economics; Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR); National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Edward L. Glaeser


Harvard University - John F. Kennedy School of Government, Department of Economics; Brookings Institution; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Bruce Sacerdote


Dartmouth College - Department of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

April 2005

Harvard Institute of Economic Research Discussion Paper No. 2068

Abstract:     
Americans average 25.1 working hours per person in working age per week, but the Germans average 18.6 hours. The average American works 46.2 weeks per year, while the French average 40 weeks per year. Why do western Europeans work so much less than Americans? Recent work argues that these differences result from higher European tax rates, but the vast empirical labor supply literature suggests that tax rates can explain only a small amount of the differences in hours between the U.S. and Europe. Another popular view is that these differences are explained by long-standing European "culture", but Europeans worked more than Americans as late as the 1960s. In this paper, we argue that European labor market regulations, advocated by unions in declining European industries who argued "work less, work all" explain the bulk of the difference between the U.S. and Europe. These policies do not seem to have increased employment, but they may have had a more society-wide influence on leisure patterns because of a social multiplier where the returns to leisure increase as more people are taking longer vacations.

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Date posted: April 19, 2005  

Suggested Citation

Alesina, Alberto F. and Glaeser, Edward L. and Sacerdote, Bruce, Work and Leisure in the U.S. and Europe: Why so Different? (April 2005). Harvard Institute of Economic Research Discussion Paper No. 2068. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=706982 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.706982

Contact Information

Alberto F. Alesina
Harvard University - Department of Economics ( email )
Littauer Center
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
617-495-8388 (Phone)
617-495-7730 (Fax)
Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)
77 Bastwick Street
London, EC1V 3PZ
United Kingdom
National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)
1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
Edward L. Glaeser (Contact Author)
Harvard University - John F. Kennedy School of Government, Department of Economics ( email )
Littauer Center
Room 315A
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
617-496-2150 (Phone)
617-496-1722 (Fax)
Brookings Institution
1775 Massachusetts Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20036-2188
United States
National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)
1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
Bruce Sacerdote
Dartmouth College - Department of Economics ( email )
6106 Rockefeller Hall
Hanover, NH 03755
United States
603-646-2121 (Phone)
603-646-2122 (Fax)
National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)
1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
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