JEI's Spin on the News

Japanese Workers Clocking Fewer Hours On The Job

Monday, September 27, 1999

According to the United Nations International Labor Organization, the average Japanese worker is putting in fewer hours at work than ever before. In 1980 Japanese put in an average of 2,121 hours a year on the job. In 1995, however, the figure was only 1,889 hours, a 10.9 percent decline. The study, prepared by the ILO with the help of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, drew no conclusions about the cause of the downward trend. Japanese politicians, however, have said one of their long-term goals is to reduce the average number of hours worked per year, giving Japanese more leisure time and raising their standard of living.

Interestingly, a downward trend in average annual working hours also was reported by most other advanced industrialized countries (see Table). Only the United States reported an increase between 1980 and 1997, with the benchmark starting at 1,883 in 1980 and rising about 4 percent to 1,966 in 1997.
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Changes in Average Annual Hours Worked Per Capita

United States

1980

1,883

1997

1,966

Japan

1980

2,121

1995

1,889

United Kingdom

1980

1,775

1997

1,731

West Germany

1980

1,742

1996

1,560

France

1980

1,810

1997

1,656

Canada

1980

1,784

1997

1,732

Also of note is the ILO's figures on labor productivity. Between 1980 and 1996, Japan's index rose 43 percent (from 100 to 143), while the U.S. figure recorded only a 22 percent gain (100 to 122). Japanese workers were not alone in raising productivity at a faster rate than their American counterparts while at the same time cutting working hours. Workers in advanced European countries and key Asian nations also outpaced the United States in labor productivity growth. While it is true that many of these countries started from a much lower level of productivity, the disparity in growth rates will have important competitive consequences if it continues to persist.

An English summary of the ILO report is available at:

http://www.ilo.org/public/english/60empfor/polemp/kilm/index.htm

"JEI's Spin on the News" are the opinions of one of more members of JEI's staff and do not necessarily represent the views of the organization.

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