Employment policies and data

OECD Employment Outlook 2004 - Chapter 1: Striking facts


Hours worked per inhabitant have evolved very differently since 1970 in different OECD countries, with the French working 24% fewer hours in 2002 than in 1970 and Americans working 20% more hours. Over this 32-year period, hours worked fell in the large majority of countries for which the necessary data are available to make this comparison, with most of this drop taking place during the 1970s and 1980s. After France, the largest declines in per capita hours were seen in Finland, Germany and Japan. In addition to the United States, hours worked rose only in Australia, Canada, Iceland and New Zealand.

These trends in per capita hours reflect the combined impacts of changes in three factors: i) average hours per worker; ii) the employment rate among working-age persons; and iii) the share of working-age persons in the total population. One commonality across all of the countries considered is that average hours per worker have declined since 1970, although there was a tendency for the average “work year” to stabilise in more recent years in many countries. The cumulative decline in hours per worker was much larger in some countries than others. Cross-country differences in the evolution of the employment-population ratio were also pronounced. Falling employment rates reinforced declines in the work year in some countries (e.g. Finland, France and Spain). By contrast, substantial increases in the employment rate more than off-set declines in hours per worker in other countries, resulting in a net increase in per capita hours (e.g. Canada, New Zealand and the United States). Most countries benefited from increases in the share of the population who are of working age, but favourable shifts in the age structure made a substantial contribution to raising hours per inhabitant in only a few countries (e.g. Iceland, Ireland and New Zealand). This beneficial demographic effect has tended to weaken in more recent years, as rising old-age dependency ratios have begun to outweigh declining youth dependency ratios.