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Bone-Tired? You Need a Job in Europe


In Europe, nothing happens in August.

While many Canadians slog away at their jobs, making do with a mean three weeks of annual vacation (if that), across Europe commuter trains are half empty and virtually no decisions of import are made throughout the summer months, as Europe’s annual foray into the philosophical and physical realm of relaxation, recreation and rejuvenation takes hold.

Not so in Canada, though. Here a neo-Calvanist ethic has us firm in its grip, as the city’s familiar rhythm of work is scarcely interrupted by the fact that it is summer. Only a select few take themselves off to the cabin for the summer. Why is this? For one thing, Canadians have shorter vacations than Europeans. While German, Italian and French workers enjoy more than 40 days of vacation a year, most Canadians make do with just 2 -3 weeks.

Perhaps the most striking of all the differences between Canadians and Europeans relates to hours worked. In 1999, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the average Canadian employee worked just under 2,000 hours a year (1,976). The average German worked just 1,535 — fully 22% less. According to a recent Canadian labour force study, the average French citizen works 32% less.

Twenty-five years ago, this gap between Canadian and European working hours didn’t exist. Between 1979 and 1999, the average Canadian working year lengthened by 50 hours, or nearly 4%. But the average German working year shrank 12%. The same was true elsewhere in Europe.

Niall Ferguson, professor of history at Harvard, explains the divergence as a function of German sociologist Max Weber’s famous essay on The Protestant Work Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, written a century ago.

Weber believed he had identified a link between the rise of Protestantism (and especially Calvinism) and the development of “the spirit of capitalism.” I would like to propose a modern version of Weber's theory, namely The Atheist Sloth Ethic and the Spirit of Collectivism. You see, the most remarkable thing about the transatlantic divergence in working patterns is that it has coincided almost exactly with a comparable divergence in religiosity, in terms of observance and belief.
According to the Gallup Millennium Survey of religious attitudes (conducted in 1999), 48% of people in Western Europe nowadays almost never go to church; the figure for Eastern Europe is just a little lower at 44%. In the Netherlands, Britain, Germany, Sweden and Denmark, less than one in 10 of the population now attends church at least once a month. Only in Catholic Italy and Ireland does more than a third of the population worship once a month or more often. By contrast, more than twice as many North Americans as Europeans attend religious services once a week or more.

Ferguson does not offer relative incidence of religiosity as the sole explanation for the fact that Europe today is lethargic while we in North America toil away as usual. But, he avers, “surely there is something more than coincidence about the simultaneous rise of unbelief, and the decline of Weber’s work ethic, across Europe.”

If Professor Ferguson wasn’t enjoying his annual vacation travelling across Europe, he’d probably set about to write a book on the subject.

Posted by Raymond Tomlin at August 13, 2004 10:11 PM in Pop Culture


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