The popular image of French men and women spending their time in sidewalk cafes sipping aperitifs, smoking Gauloises and watching the world go by belies the fact that the nation’s residents work the least amount of hours in the world, yet are among the most productive. According to a recent UBS survey, people globally work an average of 1,902 hours annually. The work day is even longer for people in Asian and Middle Eastern cities. By contrast, residents of Paris and Lyon have the shortest workday at 1,582 and 1,594 hours annually, respectively.
In 2010, France’s GDP totaled $2.113 trillion; that represented a 1.6 percent growth rate and a GDP per capita of $38,016. The French achieve their high standard of living while working 16 percent fewer hours than the average person, and nearly 25 percent less than their Asian peers. Visit France and you’ll see that their standard of living is probably significantly higher than the GDP numbers indicate. If you divide France’s GDP per capita by actual hours worked, you’d probably learn that the French are achieving some of the highest returns on work-hours invested.
Because healthcare and education are virtually free, the French have the ability to put more emphasis on family and pleasure rather than making a profit. Additionally, the French have 11 national holidays every year and many workers take extra time off if those holidays occur on a Tuesday or Thursday. Then there’s France’s legendary vacation time – which can range from five to eight weeks a year. Despite this and with an unemployment rate of 9.5 percent as of May 2011, France remains the world’s fifth largest economy. And the French achieve all that with a 35-hour workweek, which was adopted in 1998 in an effort to create more jobs for the unemployed. The early retirement age is 62, although most French opt to retire at 65.
France scores among the top 10 in International Living magazine’s “Best Quality of Life” survey. According to the article on the results of the 2011 survey, “Still, it can be useful to step back and see how each nation fares relative to others when we do consider these categories. To come out ahead, a country must be an all-around good pick, not just a standout in one area or two. And that explains why the top finishers are developed nations like the U.S. and the rest of our top 10 — New Zealand, Malta, France, Monaco, Belgium, Japan, United Kingdom, Austria, and Germany. None is among the most affordable nations on the planet. But they all offer other benefits. These nations are home to plenty of expats who are thrilled with life in their chosen havens.”
Writing on Truthout.com, Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman says that “It’s true that French GDP per capita (output divided by the number of people in the nation), for example, is only about three-quarters of the American level, when adjusted for purchasing power. But when you look closely at that number, the story is certainly more complex than many people think. Let’s look at data released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the United States — at data on France in particular, since that’s the country Americans have strong feelings about, right? I’m going to focus on the data from 2008, not 2009. In 2009, businesses in the United States laid off a lot of workers, while European firms did not. That produced a divergence in productivity that had more to do with short-run business cycle events than with fundamental trends. Data from 2008 allows for a better sense of the underlying differences. GDP, per capita, per person, France produces 73 percent of what the United States produces in a year. GDP per hour worked: A French worker produces about 99 percent of what an American worker produces in one hour. Number of workers: For every 100 workers in the United States, France has about 84 workers. Hours per worker: For every 100 hours an American works, a French person works about 88. So French workers are roughly as productive as American workers.”
At present, France is the fastest growing economy in the European Union. According to Ken Hurst of Works Management, “New productivity data published today (4 February) highlights a further rise in labor productivity across the European Union, thereby extending the current period of improvement to 21 months. Furthermore, the pace of increase accelerated since December to a five-month high and put France in first place in the growth league. Broken down by nation, the latest data highlighted gains across the EU’s four largest economies, the strongest of which was recorded in France – where output per employee rose at the strongest pace since last July. Marked gains were recorded in both the manufacturing and service sectors.”