Americans are famously bad at achieving work-life balance. It’s not just that we’re the only advanced economy with no legally required vacation days, or that the average American works around 500 hours more every year than someone in France.
One in four employed Americans is up working–whether checking email at home, or running the cash register at a 24-hour Starbucks–between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. Compare that to the Netherlands, where only one in 14 workers works at night. One in three Americans also works on weekends. This is all laid out in a new report on America’s overly aggressive work habits.
Someone who already works extra-long hours (say, 60 hours a week), is almost twice as likely to work during off-hours than someone who has a more standard workload. But longer hours actually only account for a tiny part of the difference between the U.S. and the rest of the world.
“It’s not just long hours. The paper shows that why we work so much at nights and weekends is almost independent of long hours,” explains economist Daniel S. Hamermesh, co-author of the National Bureau of Economic Research working paper, who says he doesn’t have an explanation for why we work more at what he calls “strange” hours.
“I wish I had data from 50 years ago, when we made it more difficult for things to be open on the weekend,” he says. “I think it’s a difference in the institutions. We’ve chosen to have ourselves working all the time.”
Though anyone who’s ever used a smartphone to check work emails from bed may be tempted to blame technology for nocturnal work habits, the study found that most of the people working off-hours are low-wage workers who probably aren’t using the latest gadgets on the job.
“The people doing nighttime work disproportionately low-wage, low-skilled workers,” Hamermesh says. “So I don’t think it’s an Internet issue, despite the constant complaint that we’re up in the middle of the night checking email. . . . I think it’s just institutions and the culture.”