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 –, may be subject to measurement errors, doesn’t take into account productivity per worker, and ignores deleterious labor policies that may 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)

Category: Data Analysis, Employment

Please use the comments to demonstrate your own ignorance, unfamiliarity with empirical data and lack of respect for scientific knowledge. Be sure to create straw men and argue against things I have neither said nor implied. If you could repeat previously discredited memes or steer the conversation into irrelevant, off topic discussions, it would be appreciated. Lastly, kindly forgo all civility in your discourse . . . you are, after all, anonymous.

19 Responses to “Italy Works 20% More Hours Than Germany or France”

  1. jaymaster says:

    Which is why the term “productivity” was invented.

  2. theexpertisin says:

    It’s not the hours, it’s the productivity. That’s what my workers tell me.

  3. mwemwe says:

    The same report also shows that Italy has significantly lower labor force participation and significantly higher unemployment rates than Germany both of which removes less productive workers from the workforce that will lower the average of hours worked in Germany. Also Germany has a much higher percentage of woman in the workforce who tend to work fewer hours than men. Finally, the part-time employment rate in Germany is significantly higher than in Italy. All this will skew the number of hours worked by worker in favor of Italy. So the appropriate conclusion from this study should not be that Italians work 20% more hours than Germans but that those Italians that are actually in the workforce are probably as hard working as or slightly more hardworking than German workers and suffer unfairly from the stereotype of lazy southerners. However the low workforce participation in Italy is a real problem and significantly contributes to its budget woes. It also significantly understates Italy’s unemployment rate and may partly exlplain the stereotype of the lazy Italian.
    http://www.bls.gov/fls/chartbook/section2.pdf

  4. [...] Global Macro Monitor at Ritholtz: 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. … 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? [...]

  5. CHB says:

    More surprising is that universal instant access to data has done nothing to break the hammerlock of preconceptions. Another beauty is the Spanish uncompetitiveness argument. The country’s share of extra-EU trade has risen faster than Germany’s over the life of the euro.

  6. [...] – Italians work harder than Germans. [...]

  7. SK says:

    The ‘hours worked’ statistic was also a common refrain during the height of the Greek crisis. The trouble with this statistic is that it fails to normalise for the fact that Germans (in stereotypical Teutonic fashion) earn suppressed wages (part of the they-don’t-consume-enough argument).

    Instead, a telling story is that of Eurozone productivity – the dollar output per worker for an hour of work:
    http://epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/statistics_explained/index.php/National_accounts_%E2%80%93_GDP

    specifically: http://epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/statistics_explained/images/thumb/4/40/Labour_productivity_(based_on_PPS),_2000-2010_(1).png/350px-Labour_productivity_(based_on_PPS),_2000-2010_(1).png

    By this measure Germans are 25% more productive than the EU average, Italy average and Greeks 25% less than the average.

    By the way, I hate these sort of stats – they fail to show the WHY, rather they reinforce stereotypes. For example, no one has yet to explain why Germans choose to earn suppressed wages?

  8. SK says:

    Having done some digging around I found some interesting reasons for Germany’s high productivity.

    Specifically, it centres around a set of labour reforms known as Agenda 2010 undertaken early last decade – in which wages were kept low and in turn unemployment would be kept low (an unnatural situation in a free labour market.) Indeed, these reforms have led to below trend wage growth:
    http://barclayswealthblog.files.wordpress.com/2011/02/real-household-disposable-income-per-capita-21.jpg

    And an unusually low unemployment rate. Casually, the unemployment rate is often referred to in the press/blogosphere as a reason to awe with envy Teutonic efficiency – not so.

    I am not an economist, but I’d suspect that these labour reforms are a core reason as to why Germans don’t consume enough – leading to a savings glut and current account imbalance.

  9. Julia Chestnut says:

    A people can work their tail off, it doesn’t create national prosperity if what they make isn’t exportable, exports at a low price compared to expensive imports, is at low wages that don’t allow enough income to buy anything, or creates wealth that is concentrated and squandered on obscene trinkets (bought abroad) at the top. The very hardest working people I have ever known are living in abject poverty in a failed state where they are likely to be found beheaded and hanging by their feet from an overpass if they pipe up and complain.

    There simply isn’t a connection between a person’s virtues and their position in life, it is an ugly myth preserved by a venal minority. Thank you for some cold hard facts, but I fear it won’t change any minds. In part, this is stark evidence of the importance of a working government with the people’s best interests at heart – which we’re slowly discovering is hard to maintain, and which some assert is a negative.

  10. BusSchDean says:

    So we have three things going: 1) how much people work; 2) how productively they work; and 3) how does what they do matters. Presumably a hard working, productive society that effectively produced and exported additive drugs to others would not be preferred.

  11. jaytrader says:

    Nice Try…

    “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.”

    This is not because they work harder in Ireland. It is because the Government has guaranteed all bank debt across the board.

    There is a very high correlation between Socialism and Higher Asset Prices. Some say it even equalls 1.

  12. Petey Wheatstraw says:

    JC:

    You nailed it.

  13. AtlasRocked says:

    Dr. Edward Prescott, Nobel prize winner, showed there is strong world wide inverse correlation between marginal tax rates and hours worked. But he also found the off-record work, bartering for services and goods, increased proportional to tax rates, and people worked about the same total hours per week.

    ” Indeed, the Italian government increases its measured output by nearly 25% to capture the output of the underground sector. Change the tax laws and you will notice a change in behavior: These people won’t start working more, they will simply engage in more taxable market labor, and will produce more per hour worked.”

  14. buzzer87 says:

    Great post.

    Creating national stereotypes is a natural human heuristic but those types of mental shortcuts are dangerous if used for policy decisions. Reading many of the comments is a wonderful example of how humans interact with a certain sets of data. In this case it was regarding “lazy” vs “non-lazy.”

    In my experience, geographic advantages play the most important role in determining the capital wealth of a nation. The geographic advantages that I refer to are threefold: network of navigable rivers, easy access to deep water ports and large tracks of productive agricultural land. These three advantages allows a nation to easily grow and transport created goods at low prices. Nations with more geographic advantages correspondingly have more capital wealth. Capital wealth is then invested in the economic base in form of basic public goods such as education and infrastructure. This all adds up to more productive and competitive workers.

    The North/South wealth divide in Europe can be readily identified as a geographic divide. Germany has all three geographic advantages previously listed while nations such as Italy, Greece and Spain have almost none. Until capital rich nations invest willingly in the infrastructure of southern nations, worker competitiveness will remain a northern European trait.

  15. beaufou says:

    It is not productivity, Germany is behind Italy and Ireland.
    http://www.eupedia.com/forum/showthread.php?24193-Real-productivity-of-European-countries

    It is specialization, 90% of German exports come from highly specialized small industry, not corporations.
    Tools, machinery, metals, transport equipment…etc
    Companies we never hear of because they are mostly selling to other professionals looking for reliable and high tech components (not cheap either).

  16. Greg0658 says:

    this thread is missing the power of herds – advertising – media ownership agendas .. just a reminder

  17. Kekepana says:

    No surprise. When I worked at the American Embassy in Germany, our idea of heaven was to come back as a German metalworker. They were paid more and worked less than U.S. diplomats.

  18. [...] // counterparties Turns out Italians work more hours than Germans, the Japanese, or Americans — Ritholtz [...]

  19. [...] That stereotype of lazy southern Europe and the hard working North is just not reflected in the data, as explained the Global Macro Monitor. [...]