The Best Countries for Work-Life Balance

Northern Europe leads the world in laying out a social safety net for children and poorer parents, but the U.S. snags a top-five finish in the key “Working Mothers” category

With the lowest child-poverty rate among developed nations, Denmark was named the best country for work-life balance in a 2011 report from the OECD.

All three Scandinavian countries — Denmark, Sweden, and Norway — finished in the top seven in the ranking. So famous for their generous social safety net, which sharply divides liberals and conservatives between envy and consternation, northern Europe dominated the list, taking almost all the top ten spots.

What constitutes a balance between work and life? The OECD settled on three chief variables: (1) The share of the labor force that works very long hours (more than 50 hours a week); (2) time spent on “leisure and personal care” (defined in contrast to paid or unpaid work as spending time with friends, going to the movies, pursuing hobbies, sleeping, eating, etc.); and (3) employment rates for women who have children. The United States, which leads most of the world in share of mothers who are working, lagged in leisure time and share of overworked employees. Onto the list, with some analysis below:

1 :: Denmark
Key stat: Denmark ranks 1st in participation in childcare services and also boasts the lowest child-poverty rates.

Employees working very long hours: 2%
Employment rate of women with children: 78%
Time devoted to leisure and personal care: 16.31 hours

2 :: Norway
Key stat: “People in Norway work 1407 hours a year, much lower than the OECD average of 1739 hours.”

Employees working very long hours: 3%
Employment rate of women with children: 79%
Time devoted to leisure and personal care: 16.05 hours

3 :: Netherlands
Key stat: “People in the Netherlands work 1378 hours a year, the lowest rate in the OECD … In the past two decades, the rise in female employment in the Netherlands has been rapid: in the early 80’s the rate was amongst the lowest in the OECD at around 35%, in 2009 it had doubled to over 70%. However, much of the increase in female employment has been on a part-time basis”

Employees working very long hours: 1%
Employment rate of women with children: 76%
Time devoted to leisure and personal care: 16.06 hours

4 :: Finland
Key stat: “The Finnish model of work and family reconciliation stands out in international comparison because of the manner in which it provides choice to parents with young children. Finnish policy reduces barriers to employment by ensuring all families with young children have access to a subsidised childcare place.”

Employees working very long hours: 4%
Employment rate of women with children: 76%
Time devoted to leisure and personal care: 15.95 hours

5 :: Belgium
Key stat: “People in Belgium work 1550 hours a year, one of the lowest rates in the OECD and lower than the average of 1739 hours.”

Employees working very long hours: 4%
Employment rate of women with children: 63%
Time devoted to leisure and personal care: 16.61 hours

6 :: Switzerland
Key stat: “People in Switzerland work 1640 hours a year, lower than the OECD average of 1739 hours.”

Employees working very long hours: 6%
Employment rate of women with children: 79%
Time devoted to leisure and personal care: 15.74 hours

7 :: Sweden
Key stat: “People in Sweden devote 65% of their day, or 15.5 hours, to personal care (eating, sleeping, etc.) and leisure (socializing with friends and family, hobbies, games, computer and television use, etc.) – close to the OECD average.”

Employees working very long hours: 1%
Employment rate of women with children: 76%
Time devoted to leisure and personal care: 15.48 hours

8 :: Germany
Key stat: “In 2009, only three countries in the OECD had fewer babies per woman than Germany. At 25% of median earnings, gender pay gaps are well above the OECD average (16%).”

Employees working very long hours: 5%
Employment rate of women with children: 66%
Time devoted to leisure and personal care: 16:14 hours

9 :: Portugal
Key stat: “n reality, the Portuguese problem is not that families have no children, but rather families not having more than one child. Childlessness is low in Portugal, less than one in ten women aged 49+ have no children, but around half of all Portuguese families are one-child families.”

Employees working very long hours: 6%
Employment rate of women with children: 65%
Time devoted to leisure and personal care: 15.27 hours

10 :: France
Key stat: “France performs well in a number of important dimensions of work-life balance: fertility is above the OECD average; the employment rate of women aged 25 to 54 is above the OECD average, and 80% of them work full-time; and despite a recent slight increase, child poverty concerns 8% of children aged from 0 to 17 and is well below the OECD average (12.75%). These positive outcomes go hand-in-hand with high investment in family policies across the different stages of childhood.”

Employees working very long hours: 9%
Employment rate of women with children: 66%
Time devoted to leisure and personal care: 16.06 hours

11 :: Slovenia
Key stat: “People in Slovenia work 1687 hours a year, lower than the OECD average of 1739 hours.”

Employees working very long hours: 7%
Employment rate of women with children: 74%
Time devoted to leisure and personal care: 15.29 hours

12 :: Estonia
Key stat: “People in Estonia work 1969 hours a year, one of the highest rates in the OECD and higher than the average of 1739 hours.”

Employees working very long hours: 6%
Employment rate of women with children: 65%
Time devoted to leisure and personal care: 15.27 hours

13 :: Czech Republic
Key stat: “People in the Czech Republic work 1942 hours a year, higher than the OECD average of 1739 hours per year and one of the highest rates in the OECD.”

Employees working very long hours: 9%
Employment rate of women with children: 71%
Time devoted to leisure and personal care: 15.48 hours

14 :: Canada
Key stat: “Affordability and quality in childcare remains an issue across Canada. Particularly vulnerable are sole parents, whose childcare costs are amongst the highest in the OECD.”

Employees working very long hours: 6%
Employment rate of women with children: 65%
Time devoted to leisure and personal care: 15.27 hours

15 :: Iceland
Key stat: “In Iceland, 87% of mothers are employed after their children begin school; this figure is higher than the OECD average of 66% and the highest in the OECD”

Employees working very long hours: 14%
Employment rate of women with children: 87%
Time devoted to leisure and personal care: 14.289 hours

16 :: Luxembourg
Key stat: “People in Luxembourg [the richest country per capita] work 1601 hours a year, lower than the OECD average of 1739 hours.”

Employees working very long hours: 4%
Employment rate of women with children: 57%
Time devoted to leisure and personal care: 15.57 hours

17 :: Great Britain
Key stat: “Before the financial crisis, and during a period of increased investment (1995 to 2005), child poverty in the UK fell more than in any other OECD country (in 2005 it was 10.5%, down from 17.4% in 1995, compared to an OECD average of 12.7%); in the same period the growth in average family income was third highest in the OECD.”

Employees working very long hours: 12%
Employment rate of women with children: 67%
Time devoted to leisure and personal care: 15.6 hours

18 :: Austria
Key stat: “In Austria, 71% of mothers are employed after their children begin school; this figure is higher than the OECD average of 66% and suggests that mothers are able to successfully balance family and career.”

Employees working very long hours: 10%
Employment rate of women with children: 71%
Time devoted to leisure and personal care: 15.23 hours

Key stat: “People in the Slovak Republic work 1693 hours a year, lower than the OECD average of 1739.”

Employees working very long hours: 6%
Employment rate of women with children: 65%
Time devoted to leisure and personal care: 15.27 hours

20: Hungary
Key stat: “At 1.33 children per woman, the total fertility rate in Hungary is the 3rd lowest across the OECD (the average is 1.74). The decline in fertility started in the 1980s, and accelerated in the early 1990s.”

Employees working very long hours: 3%
Employment rate of women with children: 59%
Time devoted to leisure and personal care: 15.93 hours

21: Greece
Key stat: “People in Greece work 2119 hours a year, one of the highest rates in the OECD and much higher than the OECD average of 1739 hours.”

Employees working very long hours: 6%
Employment rate of women with children: 52%
Time devoted to leisure and personal care: 15.86 hours

22 :: Spain
Key stat: “Female employment in Spain is still below the OECD average (59.6%); 75% of mothers go back to work only 8 years after childbirth.”

Employees working very long hours: 7%
Employment rate of women with children: 57%
Time devoted to leisure and personal care: 15.7 hours

23 :: The U.S.
Key stat: “The US, for example, is the only OECD country without a national paid parental leave policy, although some states do provide leave payments.”

Employees working very long hours: 11%
Employment rate of women with children: 73%
Time devoted to leisure and personal care: 15.13 hours

The OECD chided the U.S. for insufficient investment in child welfare and for being “the only OECD country without a national paid parental leave policy.” But leave is short for a reason, they wrote: Much of our welfare is run through our tax code, which means we have to work for our welfare. “US family well-being is strongly linked to employment because a significant proportion of public family support is delivered via tax breaks and credits (45% of total compared to 10% on average in the OECD),” the report found.

Perhaps the most surprising statistics in the survey concerned Germany. Europe’s juggernaut recently set yet another record for low unemployment, but its family-work dynamic is one of Europe’s most fraught. Only three developed countries have fewer babies per woman than Germany. The average first-time mother is as old as any country in the OECD (30), and the career costs of having a child are sky-high:

German mothers with adult children have, on average, earned less than half of the total working-life earnings of otherwise similar female employees. At 25% of median earnings, gender pay gaps are well above the OECD average (16%). Mothers spend twice as much time on care than men (over 20% against less than 10%). Germany is the only OECD country where the tax/benefit system does not favour second earners in families with children.

Compare with the Netherlands, where Dutch women work almost 2 hours more per day than men, and female employment has climbed to over 70%, if you count part-time work.

http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2012/01/the-23-best-countries-for-work-life-balance-we-are-number-23/250830/#slide1 
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