Douwe Osinga's Blog: American Anxiety

Sunday, June 15, 2003

A couple of days ago I watched ‘Bowling for Columbine', a documentary about gun possession and why the murder rate is so high in the United States. The documentary did actually not conclude that it had to do with a high rate of gun ownership. I did some research and here are some facts to back that up:

For whatever reason, it seems that Americans are just more murderous than Europeans, Japanese or Canadians.

Another striking difference between the United States and Europe is the number of hours worked per person. In the Netherlands, the average number of hours worked in a year is about 1400. In the US it is 2000. Americans are richer then the Dutch, but that can be contributed almost entirely to the difference in hours worked, i.e. Americans and Dutch earn about the same per hour, the Americans just work more hours.

Now, in the Netherlands, as people have become richer, they have also started to work less hours, which seems logical to me. The more money you have, the less important it is to get even more, so the value of free time relative to money increases. In South Korea the number of hours worked is something like 2600 a year, but it is dropping. In America the same process was going on, until the seventies or so, when suddenly people started to work more. Indeed, a lot of the economical growth was fuelled by just more work.

Why would Americans work so much? Michael Moore seems to indicate that he thinks that the high murder rate has to do with anxiety in American society. While I'm not sure that that is a reason, he makes some good points that anxiety is indeed more of a problem in America than it seems here. Could it be that that is the reason why Americans work so much? Because they are afraid that they would end up poor and have nothing, or will not have enough money to put their kids through college or that they will loose their jobs? On the other hand, that would probably lead to a higher savings rate and that is not going on.