OECD Countries Blue

Who get the most paid vacation ? Check this list Minimum Employment Leave By Country

France is one extreme with minimum 5 weeks vacation up to 8 weeks when combined with various holidays and compensation time when you work more than 35 hours /week.

United States is the other extreme, being the only developed economy that does not guarantee its workers any paid vacation or holidays. As a result, 1 in 4 U.S. workers do not receive any paid vacation or paid holidays.

How does this translate in term of productivity ? You can see in this table compiled by the OECD on Labour productivity levels in the total economy  that France is very close to the US with GDP per hour worked as % of USA (USA=100) = 97.9

But does GDP a good indicator of well-being, quality of life and  happiness ?

What You Measure Affects What You Do-Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel Prize in Economics

The OECD has developed a tool called the Better Life Index using various parameters such as housing, jobs or health. They have designed an interesting interactive map that you can use to select the parameters that are important to you and compare how various countries perform: http://oecdbetterlifeindex.org/

So if you just take one parameter such as “life satisfaction” , the results are better for the U.S. than for France:

For the United States, the self-reported life satisfaction has been rising over the last decade. In recent polling, 70% were satisfied with their life and 80% believe that their life will be satisfying five years later. 76% of people in the United States reported having more positive experiences in an average day(feelings of rest, pride in accomplishment, enjoyment, etc) than negative ones (pain, worry, sadness, boredom, etc). This figure is higher than the OECD average of 72%.

For France, in recent polling, 51% were satisfied with their life and 64% believe that their life will be satisfying five years later. This is however a very low ranking when compared to other high-performing economies in the OECD. 73% of people in France reported having more positive experiences in an average day (feelings of rest, pride in accomplishment, enjoyment, etc) than negative ones (pain, worry, sadness, boredom, etc). This figure is close to the OECD average of 72%.

The self-evaluation has some biases however as French are more critical and less prone to give positive feedback than the Americans.

You can also see the ranking of countries for work-life balance :  People in France people work 1554 hours a year, lower than the OECD average of 1739 hours. People in the United States work 1768 hours a year, higher than the OECD average of 1739 hours. In theory the less hours you work the better you can balance your life but this is not counting the fact that working more and getting paid more can help you buy some time and the United States has a great culture of services to individuals.

In Conclusion: Don’t rely on simple numbers to decide your next international assignment. There are so many cultural factors to include on top of economical data, that you better talk to people who have lived or are working in the country you are interested in to get some information. If your company does not provide pre-departure cultural training, you may need to hire an expat coach to help you make your decision. Here the link to the Expat Coaching Directory.

Personally I think the quality of life in the U.S. is better than France but lower than Japan

Real experience is what matters, can you tell your story about living abroad ?

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About Anne Egros

Zest and Zen is a blog about Expat Life Challenges, Global Leadership, Intercultural Communication, Health and Wellness, Nutrition, Change Psychology, Life Transitions
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16 Responses to American Culture: The Non Vacation Nation

  1. Pingback: Indulgence vs. Restraint – Do we need this 6th Dimension in Intercultural Training and Coaching ? | Anne Egros, Intercultural Executive Coach

  2. Louise says:

    Thanks for sharing this info – a great resource. For expats making relocation decisions it is really helpful to think through the factors and characteristics of their favoured host countries. This outline suggests some useful criteria, work/life balance, life satisfaction, hours worked etc. The question is ” what kind of lifestyle do you want?” and “what do you not want?” – recognising that you are likely to get a mix of what you do and don’t want is so important – there is no perfect paradise, pros and cons to each location. Be realistic and the better life index helps the expat to set realistic and informed expectations.

    • Hi Louise, Thank your for stressing that “one size fits all” doesn’t work when you select your criteria for an assignment abroad. As you said there is no good or bad destinations, it is all about knowing what you want what is negotiable and what is not. For example access to local schools may be offering a great opportunity for young children to learn a new language but it can be a deal breaker for other families if there is no international schools for older kids who cannot speak the local language. Same issue for the following spouse who wants to work if there is no working visa available for the “trailing” spouse then it may result in expatriation failure, for other people they enjoy been immerse in the local culture and take a 3 years assignment for going back to school or taking care of kids.

  3. David Sharp says:

    Great post Anne and I think one of the reasons Europe is struggling at the moment is because of their restricted labour laws, but then again America which has more relaxed labour laws is also struggling. Like you I would pick America over France as a place to work.


    • Hello David, I totally agree, too rigid labor regulations not only are not protecting employees but are killing jobs because you can always fire someone even in France and a company can decide to close a manufacturing plant to relocate to a cheaper and less rigid place.

  4. Joel Carter says:

    I’ve often wondered the results of the hours worked and how that sifted into”life satisfaction”.Thank you

  5. @knikkolette says:

    Although I was born in Seoul, South Korea, I was raised in the US so I can’t speak on the subject comparing quality of life. I did enjoy reading your post though. 🙂

  6. I’ve been living and working in USA in late 80s and beginning of 90s. At that time the quality of life were higher than in Italy: less work, more productive. Though certain things where missing the quality were higher. Than I lived and worked in Caribbean in the late 90s were the standard were lower, notwithstanding the fact that living in such a paradise enhance the quality of life. But lack of business culture and lack of cultural uptodate life made standard low. In the mid 2000 I lived and worked in Venezuela. The standard were lower though I was living with the richest and most cosmopolitan people. So I’m agree with you it’s better to live in USA than in Europe (I do not now Japan) which is a better place to live than caribbean.

    • Hi Fabrizio, Wow, you too have lived in countries with totally different cultural values. I think that the people you meet are what makes you like living in a specific country even if economically the country is not as much as developed as your “home” place. So I agree that the GDP alone is a poor predictor of quality of life.

  7. Dear Anne, a thoughtful piece. Years ago a French colleague said to me that people in France were happier (more satisfied with their lives) than people in the United State, but that people in the United States accomplished more, quicker. That comment obviously stuck with me. Certainly education systems relate. How about expectations relating to pay as well as vacation time? What about the role of the family? Interesting stuff. the older I get the more I see people striving for a sense of being, of self. Wonder where that fits?

    Good post. raised a lot of really interesting questions. thanks, Peg

    • Hi Peg, beyond stereotypes I do think it is true that Americans put a higher value on individual success, especially in term of money compared to French. It is not rare that people here in the U.S. tell you how much they earn, the price of their property or how much they pay for their country club the first time you meet. In France speaking about money and material success is taboo and French have complicated relationships with their employers and work in general, we have a strong history of “lutte des classes” in a society valuing highly the hierarchy, social status and power more than money. As a result the education system in France relies heavily on learning many facts and ideas from history and philosophers such as Decartes for example. My son is in an American public school and the method of teaching seems to be more interactive and oriented toward inquiry, projects and technology. The relationships with family is also very different but this is a great idea for a new blog post 🙂

  8. ResumeSmith says:

    At 23 I accepted a Corporate Ambassador assignment in Mexico. I have never worked and played so hard in my life. Standard work week as 6 days, 10-12 hours each day. For me, the “day off” (or sometimes overnight) was often spent traveling to get to the next assignment. Yet the people and the culture were so welcoming and social that it didn’t really matter how many hours we worked. Being social was threaded into the work culture – long lunches, dinners, and even dancing were all part of building relationships with our teams.

    As far as an international assignment, it was a great experience for me. I’m sure I was treated much better than Americans treat Mexican nationals who come to the US to work. I was invited into homes, shown around the cities, and people really went out of their way to welcome me.

    • Thanks for sharing your great story Karleen. I can totally relate with your working experience in Mexico. I worked long hours in Japan according to its reputation, but this included many social events like singing in Karaoke with colleagues! In all countries I worked in, I always been treated extremely well as a foreigner and always found the statistics were lying compared to the reality ! Maybe I was just lucky for 20 years ?

      • ResumeSmith says:

        I also worked for a Japanese owned company for four years. Though I was never lucky enough to get a business trip to Japan, those who did found the same welcoming atmosphere there. Makes me ashamed at how we treated the Japanese ex-pats who came here to work and live. Their assignments were much longer (years), but only a select few of the American employees treated them with the same kind of welcoming spirit. Consequently, I think some were very lonely over here.

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