Overall increase in working time but workers work fewer than average hours

As part of the wider public debate on stress and work–life balance issues, working time is a topic of growing interest in Denmark. According to different calculation methods on comparative data on working time, it appears that Danish citizens are among those working both the most and the least hours in Europe. On the one hand, Danish employees have a relatively short annual working time. On the other hand, due to a generally high labour market participation rate and a very high female participation rate, the total Danish population spends more hours working than the EU15 average. The social partners and policymakers disagree on which of these two calculation methods should be applied.

In Denmark, the working time of Danish employees and families is increasingly becoming a topic of debate, and it is a discussion that is often linked with concerns in relation to increasing stress levels, as well as work–life balance issues. In recent times, the debate on working time heightened as a result of data presented by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and analysed by the Economic Council of the Labour Movement (Arbejderbevægelsens Erhvervsråd, AErådet). The data reveal that working time has increased the most in Denmark within the last 10 years, in comparison with other EU15 countries.

At the same time, the data confirm that people in Denmark are among those working both the most and the least amount of hours in Europe. These conflicting results are due to different calculation methods used in compiling the data. In respect of the Lisbon Strategy – aiming at an overall employment rate of 70%, and a female employment rate of more than 60% – the issue of working time highlights a problem that is becoming increasingly relevant across the EU.

Working time of employed people

Applying a common measure of working time in cross-country comparisons – the average annual working time per employed worker – Figure 1 reveals that Danish workers are among those in the EU15 Member States spending the least amount of time at work. The view that Danish citizens work fewer hours compared with the OECD average working time is supported, for example, by the Confederation of Danish Employers (Dansk Arbejdsgiverforening, DA). In this regard, DA highlights the relatively short formal work weeks of Danish employees – amounting to 37 hours – and the relatively high level of paid annual leave. Furthermore, the OECD data, showing an increase in working time over the last 10 years, were reviewed by the Danish Centre for Political Studies (Center for Politiske Studier, CEPOS), a liberal think-tank which argues that Denmark still falls behind the OECD average in respect of working time.

Figure 1: Average working time per employed individual, EU15, 2005


Notes: Data presented on the basis of the OECD Productivity Database; OECD average working time: 1,741 hours; EU15 average working time: 1,631 hours.

Source: AErådet, 2007

Average working time per employed individual, EU15, 2005

Working time of working age population

Despite the data presented in Figure 1 indicating that Danish people are among those working the least in the EU15, they may also be said to be among the countries in which workers spend the most time at work (Figure 2). Applying an alternative measure of national working time – average annual working time per citizen of working age (15–64 years) – Denmark appears to be one of the countries working the most hours. The different results mirror the differences in labour market participation rates in the various countries. In the case of Denmark, the results reflect the relatively high participation rate of both men and women in the Danish labour market, compared with other countries.

Figure 2: Average annual working time per individual of working age (15–64 years), EU15, 2005


Notes: Data presented on the basis of the OECD Productivity Database and OECD Database on Labour Statistics; OECD average working time: 1,163 hours; EU15 average working time: 1,083 hours.

Source: AErådet, 2007

Average annual working time per individual of working age, EU15, 2005

The importance of the labour market participation rate on comparative results on working time is shown in the Table below, which compares the impact of results from the calculation method for Denmark and Italy. Against this background, AErådet concludes that Danish people work a lot, despite relatively short work weeks and relatively more days of annual paid leave.

Working time comparison for Denmark and Italy
Comparison of working time among citizens of working age (15–64 years) in Denmark and Italy
  Working time per worker (hours) Participation rate – citizens of working age (15–64 years) Working time per citizen of working age (15–64 years) (hours)
Denmark 1,551 75.5% 1,171
Italy 1,801 57.5% 1,035

Source: AErådet, 2007

The main problem in assessing working time is that allowing for cross-country comparisons requires working time to be calculated at an individual level. Otherwise, the results would only show that citizens in the larger countries work the most hours and those in the smaller countries work the least hours due to differences in population sizes. The main dispute, therefore, is whether working time should be calculated per employed individual, per citizen of working age or per citizen. It should be noted that both results are valid: Danish employees are among those with the shortest annual working time in Europe; at the same time, the total Danish population of working age is among those working the most hours in the EU.

Further information

For further information on working time in Denmark, see the EIRO comparative study on working time developments in 2004 and 2005 (TN0608101U).

Recent analyses by AErådet fuelling the debate on this issue are presented in a press article (in Danish, 126Kb PDF) and in a resumé (in Danish, 119Kb PDF) published in December 2006. The data presented in this information update are taken from a research summary (in Danish, 178Kb PDF) released by AErådet in January 2007.

Articles presenting the views of DA have been published in ArbejdsMarkedsPolitisk Agenda No. 16 (in Danish) and also in ArbejdsMarkedsPolitisk Agenda No. 15 (in Danish).

CEPOS has published its opinions on the AErådet analyses in a press release (in Danish), taken from a research paper (in Danish, 46Kb PDF) on the issue.

Rune Holm Christiansen and Helle Ourø Nielsen, Oxford Research

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