Do the French work less than others throughout life?

Bruno Le Maire puts the issue of working hours back on the table. “Over the entire lifespan, we do not work enough,” he told RMC on December 4. The Minister of the Economy, Finance and Recovery, who pleads for putting pension reform back on the job, once the economic and health emergency has passed, pretends to wonder: ” is it reasonable and fair that people aged between 55 and 63 are those who are kept in the company the shortest? I am asking this question and answers must be provided. “

Bruno Le Maire’s diagnosis, for whom “to collectively produce more and gain in prosperity, we must all work collectively more”, because “our overall volume of work is insufficient”, is it correct? It is clear that it is based on solid arguments. Those of the economists of the powerful General Directorate of the Treasury, over which he holds the supervision, but not only. The OECD figures allow us to draw the same observation.

Antoine Goujard, economist of this club of advanced countries, sums it up as follows: in a blog post: “The French who work do so as much as in other OECD countries, but the French are less often employed and also work less long over the course of their lives, which affects both their purchasing power and upon retirement. “

Whether they are employees or non-employees, the French work on average less each year than in the average for OECD countries

Focusing on the weekly working time can be misleading. According to this indicator, the French work as much as the European average. And this, despite the 35 hours, which can be circumvented by the day packages for executives and self-employed workers and by overtime. The usual weekly working time is 36.1 hours, “a level close to the European average [36,3 heures] », Notes a study by the Treasury Department published in 2019. This duration is for example lower in Germany with 34.3 hours and in the Netherlands with less than 30 hours. French people employed full-time work a little less than their counterparts during a week, but those who are part-time work more.

© Antoine Goujard, OECD

On the whole of the year, on the other hand, the French work less, because they enjoy more days of rest, by accumulating holidays and RTT, in particular the executives. In total, these “amounted to 32 days in France against 25 for the European average in 2014″, notes the Treasury note. ” The French [en emploi]whether salaried or self-employed, work on average less each year than in the average for OECD countries, with 1,526 hours worked compared to 1,751 in the average for OECD countries in 2016 ”, notes also Antoine Goujard.

And this does not only apply to the employed workers. When we add the inactive and the unemployed, the volume of work, which underpins the financing of our social model, is lower. “The total employment rate [le nombre de personnes employées rapporté à la population de 15 à 64 ans] stood at 65.6% in the fourth quarter of 2018, three points lower than the OECD average, ”emphasizes Antoine Goujard. How to explain it? Mainly by the low rate of employment of young people and seniors. Only 30.5% of 15-24 year olds are employed, compared to 42% in the OECD. Among the 55-64 age group, 52.6% of French people have a job, compared to 61.7% on average in the OECD. In contrast, France does better than the club average on people aged 25-54. 80.8% of them work in France, compared to 78.6% on average.

For young people, the gap comes mainly from the employment rates at the end of their studies “much lower than the average for European countries for the less qualified”, notes Antoine Goujard. France is particularly struggling to integrate its young people into the labor market …

The effective exit age from the labor market is the second lowest of all OECD countries

Conclusion by Antoine Goujard: “We work less on the life cycle in France than elsewhere in the OECD: the effective age of leaving the labor market is the second lowest of all the OECD countries for men and the seventh lowest for women. “An effective age which” takes into account all those who leave the workforce beyond 40 years, including for reasons of inactivity or disability, “he says.

© Antoine Goujard, OECD

This reality is all the more striking given that, at the same time, the length of time spent in retirement in France is among the highest in the OECD. She is 25 years old, 5 years older than the average! The observation is valid compared to the rest of the European Union: “In 2017, the French retiring worked on average 34.5 years before retirement, against 35.6 in the Union of 27”, notes Antoine Goujard. A real societal choice was therefore made in favor of a longer retirement and more holidays. Should we question it? The French must in any case be aware of this as well as of all that it implies for the financing of the pay-as-you-go pension system, but also of all the other social systems (unemployment, etc.), since it is so many contributions that do not fit.

Let us recall that the annual wealth created per capita, the GDP, can increase thanks to an increase in hourly labor productivity or thanks to an increase in the average quantity of labor per capita. However, productivity growth continues to slow in advanced countries. Under these conditions, it is difficult not to consider the overall increase in the volume of work. This is what has allowed Germany to do better than France since 2005 reminded the Treasury economists in their study. “All the effects relating to the volume of hours worked [effets de la durée annuelle de travail, du chômage, du taux d’activité] strongly supports growth in Germany [+ 0,9 point de pourcentage], but much less in France [+ 0,2 point de pourcentage], where the evolution of GDP per capita reflects only that of hourly productivity, itself slowing down. “

Difficult, in these conditions, to prove Bruno Le Maire wrong. There remains the problem of extending the working life in times of crisis, which risks translating into more unemployment, as the Minister implicitly acknowledges when he questions the means to keep seniors in companies. , often pushed out of business before the legal retirement age. This is why a consultation is underway between employers’ organizations and trade unions on the work of seniors and pensions under the aegis of the Ministry of Labor. Guidelines for acting on this issue should be unveiled next year. A first step to pave the way for pension reform?

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