Are Americans Working Too Hard?

Elli Brunts, Period 1

A while back, I heard a puzzling story about a very successful man.  The man was dedicated to his work, rarely taking a vacation with his family or even a day off.  While the man made millions, he never actually took the time to enjoy it.  An article in The New Yorker states, “The top twenty percent of earners were twice as likely to work more than fifty hours a week than the bottom twenty percent”.[1]  The man’s story and this statistic made me wonder if Americans work too hard.

People, especially the wealthy, invest so much time into making money that there is hardly time to use it.  Yes, some of the country’s richest go off on flash vacations and never actually seem to work, but then there are those we don’t see.  In the epilogue of Naked Economics, Charles Wheelan writes, Americans are richer than most of the developed world; we also work harder, take less vacations, and retire late”. [2]   This seems very backwards.  Why would people work so hard and not let themselves enjoy what they have earned?  The average American work week is 41 hours, while Britain’s is 38 hours, Germany’s is 37 hours, and France’s is 36 hours.  Not only is our work week longer, there is also a greater percentage of people who work longer weeks than in any other country. [3]  With the top twenty percent of earners working longer hours than the bottom twenty percent, Americans drive for more and more is quite evident. [4]  Often times the more you have, the more you want, but if Americans are so successful, why are they working their lives away?

As Wheelan notes in Naked Economics, everyone’s goal is to maximize their utility, therefore, people do what they think will do just that. [5]  This is a similar idea to Aristotle’s happiness.  Aristotle states that, “happiness is believed to be the most desirable thing in the world…and is the end of all that man does”. [6]  So if people are acting in accordance to what Aristotle believed, they are working because they are convinced it will bring them the ultimate goal of happiness; however, people are failing to see when it is time to stop working and time to start living.  Of course people eventually retire and relax, but, as Wheelan says, we “retire late”. [7]  By the time Americans do decide to step out of their high executive jobs, they realize their lives have gone on without them, often times longing for the family vacation they cancelled for a work conference nearly twenty years ago.  Wheelan writes, Americans are going to wake up one day and decide that they work too hard,” and this is exactly what happened to the man I told you about earlier.  There is no going back in time.  Success is a wonderful thing, but Americans need to learn how to unplug and take some time off, even just for a few days.  There is no knowing what you will wish you would have done in your lifetime when it is too late, but you can minimize regret by doing things you love with the people you love today.  It is time for Americans to take a step back from stress and enjoy the beauty life has to offer.


[1] Wu, Tim. “You Really Don’t Need To Work So Much.” The New Yorker. September 18, 2015. Accessed April 30, 2017.

[2] Wheelan, Naked Economics: Undressing the Dismal Science, 318.

[3] Hamermesh, Daniel. “Americans Work Too Much, and That Needs to Change.” UT News | The University of Texas at Austin. April 04, 2016. Accessed April 30, 2017.

[4] Wu, Tim. “You Really Don’t Need To Work So Much.” The New Yorker. September 18, 2015. Accessed April 30, 2017.

[5] Wheelan, Naked Economics: Undressing the Dismal Science, 6.

[6] Aristotle, W. D. Ross, and Lesley Brown. 2009. The Nicomachean ethics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

[7] Wheelan, Naked Economics: Undressing the Dismal Science, 318.


In ThinkAdvisor. March 23, 2017. Accessed April 30, 2017.

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