Lazy Americans? Enjoy Your Summer!
This article originally appeared in the Texarkana Gazette on July 5, 2009
Dr. Robert S. Owen, Professor of Marketing, Texas A&M-Texarkana, College of Business
Another summer and another American holiday is upon us. American families are getting together to watch fireworks and enjoy recreational activities such as picnics, cook outs, boating, fishing, and camping. And on that note, I ask that you take a moment to reflect on the importance of quality time with your friends and family and on the quality of life that this great country gives to us.
One interesting area of research for marketing professors like me is something called "quality of life studies," or "QOL." This research is associated with "macromarketing," where we are trying to understand how whole societies work and how public policy interacts with peoples' behaviors across an entire country. QOL researchers study a number of issues, including what makes families happy, what makes citizens of a whole country happy, and what makes those citizens productive.
Let's cut to the bottom line: Our country has about the best quality of life on the planet because our American values and hard work make this a good place to live and work - our nation's immigration problem is proof. Detractors want us to believe that we are losing our manufacturing base because Americans are unproductive, lazy, and unambitious, and that we spend too much time enjoying life with friends and family rather than keeping our noses to the grindstone. I wouldn't mind hearing these things if they were true, but they aren't.
According to an extensive 2007 report released by the International Labor Organization (ilo.org), Americans maintain the highest labor productivity levels in the world measured as value added per worker: $63,981 per year. Ireland comes in second at US$55,986, and Luxembourg third at US$55,642; the value added per worker in Japan is US$44,878 and in China is US$10,898. We beat all countries in the European Union in productivity, we beat Japan in productivity. One worker in the United States is as productive as six workers in China. Six.
At about the same time that this report was released, the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston released the results of an analysis showing a dramatic increase in Americans' leisure time over a four decade period. That is, we're leading the world in productivity while we're decreasing the number of hours that we work and increasing the amount of time that we devote to relaxing. That dramatic increase in leisure time is the "proof" that some are using to call Americans lazy. Some executive at GE even compared lazy Americans to those who work all day Sunday in Beijing. But don't you ever let someone tell you that spending Sunday morning in church followed by quality time at the lake with friends and family is lazy; the fact is that a church-going, boat-fishing American is six times more productive than a Chinese worker who never gets an opportunity to smell the roses. That gets us to one more factor in the equation of America's work hard, play hard lifestyle.
Studies in behavioral medicine are now showing that people who are in happy marriages have lower blood pressure, have fewer heart problems, and live longer lives than their single counterparts. Studies additionally show that individuals who are in miserable marriages have higher blood pressure, greater heart problems, and shorter lifespans than their single counterparts. Studies have also shown that social support in close relationships is important to one's physical health; negative relationships and hostility increase the risk of heart disease. That is, people with friends and especially with families that get out and have fun together will be healthier, live longer, and be more productive.
And that completes the circle of our success as a nation. Americans are productive enough that they can afford leisure time with family on weekends and holidays. Americans are productive enough that they can afford recreational equipment that will enhance that leisure time - whether small things like picnic baskets and fishing poles or bigger things like boats, four wheelers, and Harleys. That quality time that we can afford to spend with friends and family results in citizens who suffer less stress, who have greater health, and who live longer, more productive lives.
So the next time you read about lazy Americans who have too much leisure time, remember that somebody forgot to mention that those lazy Summer weekends with friends and family make our workforce the most productive on the planet. Let's count our blessings for living in a nation where the opportunity to work efficiently, to enjoy the resulting leisure time with friends and family, and to own recreational equipment is not reserved for an elite few. Get out with your friends and family and make the most of your American style summer!
Robert Owen is an Associate Professor of Marketing at Texas A&M University-Texarkana and can be reached at Robert.Owen@tamut.edu.