September 3, 2007 / 4:42 PM / 12 years ago

U.S. keeps world productivity lead by working more

DUBLIN (Reuters) - U.S. workers are the world’s most productive, followed by the Irish, though productivity is rising fastest in China and much of the rest of Asia, according to the International Labour Organisation.

New home construction continues at a new housing subdivision in San Marcos California August 20, 2007. U.S. workers are the world's most productive, followed by the Irish, though productivity is rising fastest in China and much of the rest of Asia, according to the International Labour Organisation. REUTERS/Mike Blake

When measured per hour rather than the total hours worked, however, oil-rich Norway was the most productive, followed by the United States and then France, the ILO said in a report it publishes every two years. It mostly used data for 2006.

“The difference in rankings can be explained by the fact that annual working hours per person employed are considerably higher in the United States than in the majority of European economies,” the report said.

Ireland took second place when productivity was measured in terms of total hours worked, moving up from fourth position when the ILO last reported in 2005. The country came in fifth place in terms of productivity per hour, up from sixth spot in 2005.

France, where President Nicolas Sarkozy is relaxing rules that reduced the legal work week to an average 35 hours, dropped a notch or two in the rankings in the latest ILO report whether measured in output for total hours worked or per hour, as did Belgium, another country high up in the productivity stakes.

Among the wealthy industrialized nations, ILO figures showed that long-term productivity improvements were often more marked in Western Europe and Japan than the United States.

The average annual rate of productivity growth in the United States was 1.7 percent between 1980 and 2005, whether measured in terms of total hours worked or per hour.

By comparison, the annual rise in British output per worker over the same period was 2.1 percent when based on total hours per worker each year, and 2.4 percent if measured per hour.

For France, productivity rose 1.5 percent per year based on total hours worked and 2.2 percent when calculated in terms of output per hour.

For Germany the rises were 1.4 and 1.8 percent respectively, for Italy 1.1 and 1.4 percent, and for Japan 1.8 and 2.5 percent.


While coming from way behind, productivity growth is fastest in China and other parts of east Asia, according to the ILO, an agency created by governments after World War One to promote employment standards.

Although the data is more sketchy, it basically pointed to a near doubling of productivity in east Asia over the past decade, the ILO said.

Output per worker had risen from one-eighth of the level of the industrialized countries in 1996 to one-fifth of that level in 2006, it said.

In 2006, the productivity rise was 3.3 percent at the global level, 2.1 percent for the industrialized world and 8.5 percent in East Asia, a region dominated by China.

Other parts of Asia showed strong if less spectacular growth and the ILO also noted an improvement in living conditions in Asia generally.

“The Asian regions saw a substantial reduction in the number of working women and men living on less than $1 a day,” it said, noting that the number of working poor in Asia fell by nearly 50 percent, or 148 million, between 1996 and 2006.

In contrast, sub-Saharan Africa’s weak economic performance resulted in an increase of 24 million in the number of working poor, those earning less than $1 per day, it said.

The ILO also noted that world unemployment edged downwards again in 2006 to 6.3 percent from 6.4 percent and that farming was no longer the dominant source of employment in the world, even if it was still the main one in least developed countries.

The service sector accounted for 42 percent of employment in the world in 2006, and agriculture 36.1 percent, it said.

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