U.S. workers topped the world’s productivity for 2002, with annual output having risen much faster than in Europe and Japan in recent years, according to a United Nations study to be released today.
Americans were at the top because they worked relatively long weeks and took few holidays, the report says. Output per hour was higher in Norway, France and Belgium.
The U.N. study illustrated the difference technology made with a detailed look at the agricultural sector, which showed that a farm worker in the U.S. was more than 650 times as productive as one in Vietnam.
Using the traditional measure of output per worker, the U.N.'s International Labor Office said U.S. productivity growth in the seven years ending in 2002 averaged 2.2% versus 1% in Europe and 1.1% in Japan.
“The use of new technology underpins the strong productivity performance,” said Goran Hultin, executive director of the ILO’s Employment Sector, noting that decent pay and working conditions also helped.
Americans worked 1,825 hours on average in 2002, or 280 to 480 hours more than people in Norway, France and Belgium. But their output of $32 per hour was below the $38, $35 and $34 respectively in the three European nations.
Higher productivity in developed countries was a reflection not only of better technology, according to the report, but also of subsidies that industrial nations handed out to their farmers.
“It’s not fair to say they [agricultural workers in developing countries] are not efficient,” ILO economist Dorothea Schmidt said. “They’re probably working harder ... but it’s because they don’t have the technology that they cannot perform as well.”