U.S. has a lousy work-life balance

While the U.S. ranks high in housing, income and wealth, it ranks abysmally low on work-life balance—29th among the 36 advanced nations surveyed. This is according to the OECD’s updated Better Life Index, released in June.

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Could it be that our focus on productivity is preventing us from sleep and leisure?

“It’s a choice, said Romina Boarini, a senior economist at OECD who measures well-being and progress. The U.S. has the highest income and wealth, highest in terms of housing conditions and jobs and earnings, but on the other side of the coin it sacrifices work-life balance.”

The OECD’s Better Life Index was created in 2011 to measure quality of life, something the GDP doesn’t take into account.

Full-time U.S. employees spend on average 60 percent of their day or about 14 hours on personal care and leisure, just under the OECD average. This includes the time we spend sleeping and eating.

Canada and Australia, both countries that do extremely well in terms of objective statistics like GDP, also rank low on work-life balance—23rd  and 30th respectively. And it’s not like work-life balance there isn’t valued. Respondents from Australia ranked it number one in order of importance. The U.S. ranks it fourth of 11 other measures, trailing only life satisfaction, health and education.

Boarini, who called from Paris, said flexible work hours go a long way toward improving work-life balance, especially for women.

“An example is, I’m calling you from my living room, and my children just went to bed,” Boarani said. European countries offer flexible work hours, paid parental leave, universal kindergarten and childcare—all policies recommended by the OECD.

Topping the OECD’s work-life balance list is Denmark, followed by Spain, the Netherlands, Belgium, Norway and Sweden. Only two percent of Dutch employees work long hours, and on average, full-time workers devote about 16 hours or 67 percent of their day to personal care and leisure. Denmark also has a “continuum of supports for families with children,” according to the OECD website. The country spends 4 percent of its GDP on family benefits, including paid parental leave, universal childcare, and preschool support. For comparison, the U.S. has no paid parental leave or universal childcare.

Ranking below the U.S. are Australia, Japan, Israel, Korea, Chile, Mexico, and Turkey.

Turkey takes OECD’s title of worst work-life balance. There, 41 percent of employees work more than 50 hours a week, by far the highest percentage of any of the countries surveyed.