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Home Publications Blogs Beat the Press Will the French Have to Work Fewer Hours to Compete With Germany?

Will the French Have to Work Fewer Hours to Compete With Germany?

Sunday, 04 March 2012 10:54

The NYT had an article comparing the relative success of Germany's economy compared with France. It notes that Germany has a considerably lower unemployment rate and stronger growth.

The article highlights France's stronger labor market protections as a factor explaining the different outcomes. In this vein, the article includes a quote from a German official that, "the French work to live and the Germans live to work.”

The data suggest otherwise. In 2009, the most recent year for which data is available, the average German worker put in 10 percent fewer hours than the average French worker, according to the OECD.

It seems more likely that the difference in economic outcomes is attributable to the better training received by German workers as well as the greater labor-management cooperation in the workplace in Germany. These factors are mentioned in the article, but are given considerably less attention that the differences in labor market protections.


[Addendum: I chose 2009 because it was the last year for which data is available from the OECD, it is not cherry-picking. I am the hugest fan of anywhere of Kurzarbeit, German's short-work program, but that is not the explanation for why the average work year is shorter in Germany than in France. In 2008, the OECD reports that the average French worker put in 1560 hours compared to 1426 in Germany. In 2007, it was 1556 hours in France compared to 1430 hours in Germany. In short, the gap between the length of the average work year in France and the average work year in Germany predates the recession. The story that the French work less is an invention of the NYT, it does not correspond to the world.]

Comments (7)Add Comment
written by David, March 04, 2012 11:59
No matter how complex an economic scenario may be, the one thing you can count on is that the cultural explanation is always wrong.
written by miles, March 04, 2012 2:30
If you look into the data you'll see that 2009 is a special case for Germany and unsuitable for international comparisons as this was the highpoint of "Kurzarbeit", i.e. the reduced working hours program to cope with the recession.

Rather than laying off workers company kept them and could take advantage of short-term subsidies contributing to social security and training measures. Of course this says something positive about the socio-political envionment but for labour-productivity conclusions and general statements about the labour market you really have to look at different, more 'normal' years.
written by miles, March 04, 2012 2:34
the link does not show up:

written by K. Williams, March 04, 2012 4:48
Yeah, Miles is right -- comparing the average German worker's hours with the average French worker's hours in 2009 is a terrible, and deceptive, comparison. The whole point of the Kurzarbeit was that it reduced the average hours-per-worker in order to keep people employed, while in France people were just laid off. That kept the average worker's hours reasonably high, but shrank the total number of workers.
written by Keith Johnson, March 05, 2012 7:38
Hey guys, if you read to the bottom of Dean's piece you see Germans worked fewer hours than the French in 2007 and 2008 too. It wasn't just 2009.
written by wil , March 05, 2012 7:38
Steven Erlanger's authority is severely weakened by incorrect reference to training as happening with a portion of the school population being pulled from the pre-university track. They were never on that track but selected after four years of elementary school, for an additional five years of pre-apprenticeship schooling ending after nine years of schooling. The German selection system sorts into three tracks at around age eleven!
written by KeithOK, March 05, 2012 8:15
Keith Johnson,

Note that the bottom of Dean's piece is an addendum. I don't know the timing, but I'm guessing that it was added in response to Miles' comment about kurzarbeit. If so, these comments were made before the additional information was added.

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About Beat the Press

Dean Baker is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C. He is the author of several books, his latest being The End of Loser Liberalism: Making Markets Progressive. Read more about Dean.