Do the French really work less than others, as Emmanuel Macron claims?

This Tuesday, Emmanuel Macron presented, at the Elysee Palace, his “France 2030” plan, which provides for massive investments in order to prepare the country’s economic future, by strengthening its competitiveness on the international scene. The opportunity, also, for the Head of State, to address the issue of work. And on this, Emmanuel Macron made comments that come up regularly, but which are incomplete.

What Emmanuel Macron said

“When we compare ourselves, we are a country that works less than the others (…). We have an allocated amount of work that is not at the right level. Both in the life cycle and in cumulative schedules ”, he said, during the presentation of his“ France 2030 ”plan.

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Already in 2019, Emmanuel Macron assured, during a press conference in 2019, that “France works on average much less than its neighbors”.

Why is it difficult to compare

“In fact, that does not mean anything, because studies on the subject do not always compare the same thing”, immediately poses Mireille Bruyère, lecturer at the University of Toulouse and member of the appalled Economists. The figures on the amount of work vary enormously depending on the indicators taken into account in the calculations as well as the criteria selected. The rankings differ, for example, a lot between weekly, annual or lifelong work, but also if the figures are based on the active population, the total population, salaried workers or all workers…

According to figures fromInternational Labour Organization datant de 2020, the average weekly working time of the French is 35.9 hours. This is as much as the UK and the US. This is much more than the Netherlands (31.7 hours per week), but also more than Denmark (34.2 hours), Switzerland (35.4 hours), Belgium (35.7 hours) or again Italy (35.8). The quantity of weekly work of the French is, on the other hand, lower than that of Spain (36.6), Portugal (37.4) or even Greece (40.3). Eurostat figures, which compile data from different countries, show that the French work an average of 37.4 hours per week. In this ranking, they are still placed ahead of the Netherlands (30.3 hours), Denmark, Switzerland, Belgium (37.2 hours) and Italy. According to Eurostat figures, the French are behind Spain, Portugal and Greece, respectively at 37.5 hours, 39.2 hours and 41.8 hours per week.

The annual quantity of work of the French is, for its part, rather in the low world range. However, the country is far from being last, even on a European scale. According to 2020 figures from the OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) which includes employees and the self-employed, the Germans work on average 1,332 hours per year, the Danes 1,346 hours and the Dutch 1,399 hours. In France, the annual work amounts to 1,402 hours on average. A figure which climbs to 1,481 for Belgium, 1,559 for Italy or even to 1,728 for Greece. The European average is 1,513 hours of work per year.

Regarding the work supposed to be carried out throughout life, France is, here again, in the European average. According to Eurostat figures, the expected working time in 2020 for an EU resident was 35.7 years. France is slightly below, with 35.2 years, but it is still in the middle of the table. The top three are occupied by Iceland (with 44.9 years of expected work), Switzerland (with 42.5 years) and Sweden (with 42 years). At the bottom of the rankings, Croatia and Greece have 32.8 years of expected work on average and Italy 31.2.

Where are the French the worst?

But then, why does Emmanuel Macron claim that the French work less than their neighbors? It is undoubtedly based on certain precise criteria. For example, France is indeed a poor performer on the number of annual hours worked by employees – by excluding, therefore, the self-employed from the calculation. The OECD figure thus drops from the 1,402 annual hours mentioned above to 1,320. Among the European countries, only Germany is below, with 1,284 annual hours.

France is also rather at the bottom of the table concerning the amount of weekly work of full-time employees. According to Eurostat, this figure rises to 39.1 hours for France. Italy and Belgium are a little behind (with 38.8 and 38.9 hours per week respectively). The EU average is 39.7 hours. A figure that climbs to 39.9 hours for Germany, 40.5 for Portugal or 41.8 for Switzerland. If France is a little behind in this specific category, “the trend is still rather upward,” comments economist Mireille Bruyère.

Another category in which it can be considered that France works less: the retirement age. If, concerning the expected duration of work, the French are more in the middle of the European table, they are among the first to be able to retire. According to the Cleiss (Center for European and International Social Security Liaisons), on January 1, 2021, the retirement age in France is 62 – except for special schemes. Only Norway and Sweden offer a departure at this age, but with a lower pension amount than with a later departure. In addition, Poland, Romania and Greece offer retirement from the age of 60, 61.5 and 62, respectively, but only for women. Elsewhere, the possibility of retiring comes later: at 65 in Belgium, Spain and Luxembourg, 65 years and 9 months in Germany, 66 and a half in Portugal, 67 in Italy …

The productivity indicator

Quantity is good, but quality is even better. However, if certain precise indicators show that France is indeed lagging behind in terms of quantity, it is on the other hand well ranked in terms of productivity per hour worked. According to Eurostat figures for 2020, the French are the eighth most productive Europeans, behind, in particular, the Irish, the Belgians and the Danes. The country ranks ahead of Finland, Germany, Italy and Spain.

In summary

  • To say that the French work less than their neighbors without specifying what criteria this statement is based on is imprecise, since the rankings vary enormously.
  • The French are in the European average for weekly, annual or lifelong work.
  • They are, on the other hand, rather in the lower bracket on the annual hours of employees and on the quantity of weekly hours worked by full-time employees.

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