Lazy Americans: During Our Prime Years, Were Less Likely to Work Than the French

A blog about business and economics.
May 23 2014 11:13 AM

Lazy Americans: During Our Prime Years, Were Less Likely to Work Than the French

A French waiter, working hard.

Photo by Fred Dufour/AFP/Getty Images

Apropos of pretty much nothing this week, Paul Krugman decided to revisit the hoary old idea that, thanks to their extensive welfare state and burdensome labor laws, the French don’t work much. Lo and behold, it’s not really true.


The French, on the whole, do have a lower labor force participation rate than Americans, because as Krugman notes, they’re less likely to work through school and retire earlier. They also spend fewer hours on the job. But during their prime working years between the ages of 25 and 54, they’re also far more likely to be employed.


For the fun of it, I tossed Sweden onto the graph below, because nobody does social democracy quite like Stockholm, along with Canada and the United Kingdom. Turns out, they’re all beating us on the employment front too. And they have been since before the recession.

In the U.S., we tend to operate on the presumption that a generous welfare state will automatically sap people's incentive to work. Conservative economists like Casey Mulligan certainly produce a steady stream of research claiming to demonstrate that’s the case. But then you have wonder: Why do we look lazier on these graphs than the French?

Jordan Weissmann is Slate's senior business and economics correspondent.


Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Students Aren’t Going to College Football Games as Much Anymore

And schools are getting worried.

Two Damn Good, Very Different Movies About Soldiers Returning From War

The XX Factor

Lifetime Didn’t Think the Steubenville Rape Case Was Dramatic Enough

So they added a little self-immolation.


Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem

Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 

Why a Sketch of Chelsea Manning Is Stirring Up Controversy

How Worried Should Poland, the Baltic States, and Georgia Be About a Russian Invasion?

Trending News Channel
Sept. 19 2014 1:11 PM Watch Flashes of Lightning Created in a Lab  
  News & Politics
Sept. 20 2014 11:13 AM -30-
Business Insider
Sept. 20 2014 6:30 AM The Man Making Bill Gates Richer
Sept. 20 2014 7:27 AM How Do Plants Grow Aboard the International Space Station?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
Brow Beat
Sept. 20 2014 3:21 PM “The More You Know (About Black People)” Uses Very Funny PSAs to Condemn Black Stereotypes
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 21 2014 8:00 AM An Astronaut’s Guided Video Tour of Earth
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.