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Why do Americans Work So Much? Divorce Rates May Provide the Answer

In the early 1970s, Western Europeans spent more time working than their American counterparts - a trend that has drastically changed over the years. In fact, recent research indicates that Americans work 30 percent more than Europeans.

There has been some debate regarding the reasons for this dramatic shift in working habits on either side of the pond, but a recent study found that divorce rates may be partially the cause of Americans spending more time at the office.

According to the study's results, divorce rates, in addition to tax rates, explain 58 percent of the difference between hours worked by workers in the United States and 17 different European countries. Contributing greatly to the difference is that European women tend to work less then American women - which was directly tied to divorce rates.

The authors of the study believe that marriage provides a "social insurance" for spouses since they are able to share expenses and salaries - meaning women who are in countries with high divorce rate have a greater incentive to gain work experience since they are more likely to lose this "social insurance" through divorce.

European women, who generally do not anticipate divorce as much as American women, have less incentive to "insure" against divorce, and thus less reason to obtain work experience, according to the study.

The researchers bolstered their study's findings by noting that U.S. states that incorporated "no-fault" divorces in the 1970s - divorces in which it is not necessary to prove wrong-doing by either spouse - experienced a corresponding spike in the female labor force in those states. Interestingly, this is also the period in which Americans started to work more than Europeans. Also, even though most European countries have since enacted their own no-fault divorce law, they still generally have considerably lower divorce rates that in the U.S.

Source: Business Insider, "Divorce Rates May Explain Why American Work So Darn Much," Indraneel Chakraborty, May 18, 2012

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