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NEIL REYNOLDS

Does hard work pay off? Ask the Mexicans Add to ...

According to an OECD report published earlier this year, Mexicans are the hardest-working people in the world – or, at least, in 29 of the world’s more advanced economies. As calculated by the Paris-based organization, Mexicans work an average of 595 minutes a day – five minutes short of 10 hours. Of this time, 253 minutes (four hours and 13 minutes) are unpaid – time spent on cooking, cleaning and other everyday chores. In contrast, the average OECD workday is 480 minutes – eight hours.

Does hard work pay off? Mexicans may not always think so. Their country has the highest level of relative poverty, according to this survey: one person in five. The OECD average is one in 10.

Why the difference? In part, it’s because much of women’s work is unpaid. Mexican women work four hours and 21 minutes a day more than men on unpaid work – compared with two hours and 28 minutes for the average OECD woman, one hour and 42 minutes for the average North American woman and 57 minutes for the average Danish woman, whose country boasts the smallest gender gap of this kind.

Expressed in minutes of work a day, here are the top 10 hardest-working countries: 1. Mexico, 595; 2. Japan, 540; 3. Portugal, 528; 4. Canada, 517; 5. Estonia, 516; 6. Austria, 509; 7. China, 504; 8. New Zealand, 498; 9. United States, 496; 10. Slovenia, 495. Germany and Belgium work the least at 420 minutes (or seven hours).

Some of the hardest-working countries are mere minutes apart. Canada beats Estonia by a minute, Austria by eight and China by 13. As the second hardest-working country, Japan benefits from a traditionally low unemployment rate (5 per cent) – as opposed, for example, to Estonia (14 per cent). Half of Japan’s population doesn’t do “home work” at all. On the other hand, Japan has the highest life expectancy (82.7 years), which ought to propel a higher percentage of people into the post-retirement leisure class.

With its high unemployment, Estonians might be expected to do more volunteer work than countries with low unemployment. Apparently they don’t. Along with Turkey and Greece, Estonia has one of the world’s lowest rates for volunteer work: 22 per cent. The OECD average is 39 per cent. The U.S. ranks No. 1: 60 per cent of Americans “give time to help strangers.”

In ninth place overall, the U.S. escapes much work by not cooking. Americans spend only 30 minutes a day preparing meals and cleaning up after them – the lowest percentage of any country in the OECD survey. They also spend the least time eating: one hour and 14 minutes a day, on average. The consequences of so much fast food, alas, are grim: Americans are also the most obese – 34 per cent of the adult population (compared with the OECD average of 17 per cent).

For its part, Canada ranks highest in the world for tolerance of minorities – 84 per cent of Canadians are tolerant (or say they’re tolerant) of ethnic minorities and of sexual orientation. The OECD average is 60 per cent.

Canada’s declining fertility rate draws the OECD’s attention. More babies mean more work. Canada’s fertility rate, at 1.7, is the lowest in the English-speaking world. At 2.4, New Zealand’s rate is the highest. Canada’s rate, of course, remains much higher than European fertility rates: Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Hungary and Italy are at 1.3 – almost one baby per woman short of population replacement.

Notwithstanding its high poverty rate, hard-working Mexico is on the rise. Euromonitor International, a market research company, expects Mexico to replace Italy as the world’s 10th biggest economy in the next four years. The firm says Mexico will grow at an annual rate of 4 per cent for the next decade, with Italy at 2 per cent.

Further, by 2020, 22 per cent of Italians will be over 65, compared with only 8 per cent of Mexicans. Fertility, it seems, does matter. With 2.2 children per woman, Mexico will have lots of babies on board for years to come – raising its “domestic product” as well as its gross domestic product.

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