We’re often told that Americans aren’t as happy as Europeans because Europeans vacation more, work less and enjoy more government benefits. Yet now it appears as though that old adage may be more the wishful thinking of Europhiles and liberal politicians enamored with Europe’s big-government, socialist policies than actual fact.
Because the facts are that most Americans like their jobs, and Americans tend to be much happier than their European counterparts.
As per Arthur Brooks, most Americans like their jobs:
…an amazingly high percentage of us like our jobs. Among adults who worked 10 hours a week or more in 2002, the General Social Survey (GSS) found that 89% said they were very satisfied or somewhat satisfied with their jobs. Only 11% said they were not too satisfied or not at all satisfied.
And it doesn’t matter if that job is a “good” one or a “bad” one:
No doubt there is great job dissatisfaction among people with low incomes and little education–the folks working in factories and on farms; the people who sell you socks and serve you lunch–right? Wrong. There is no difference at all between those with above- and below-average incomes: nine in 10 are satisfied, as are people without college degrees. 87% of people who call themselves “working class” are satisfied.
Plus, we’re happy with our work schedules and amount of time off:
But even if we are satisfied with our jobs, might we still be happier at the beach? Imagine asking people something like this: “If you were to get enough money to live as comfortably as you would like for the rest of your life, would you continue to work or would you stop working?” Certainly a high percentage would answer in the affirmative? Wrong again: In 2002, the GSS found that number to be less than a third of all workers. And once again, there is no difference between those at different levels of income or education. 69% of working class folks say they would keep working even if they didn’t have to.
And we’re also just happier in general compared to Europeans:
according to the 2002 International Social Survey Programme across 35 countries, 56% of Americans are “completely happy” or “very happy” with their lives, versus 44% of Danes (often cited in surveys as the happiest Europeans), 35% of the French and 31% of Germans. Those sweet five-week vacations and 35-hour workweeks don’t seem to be stimulating all that much félicité. A good old-fashioned 50-hour week might be a better option.
It’s hard to say how much of this can be accounted for by simple cultural differences. Americans are very career-orientated, much more so than Europeans, and we just like to work and be industrious. But I also wonder if the sort of intrusive government that comes with cradle-to-grave entitlements and mandated early retirements/ample vacation time isn’t what is making Europeans less happy than us. I mean, a 35 hour work week and mandated vacations/early retirement sound nice, until you get a look at the sort of taxes you have to pay in order to support those sort of policies. Not to mention the impact it has on the economy (most European nations have unemployment rates that are the double of America’s).
At the end of the day, there’s a lot that’s pretty great about America’s relatively limited government and emphasis on self reliance. So the next time you hear some sniveling liberal tell you that America should be more like Europe, tell him or her that you’d rather keep your current level of happiness.