In Praise of Strong Social(ist) Policy

Based on very serious OECD data that compares various measures of leisure in its countries,  France rules. (see also Jay Livingston on this) So, why does France stand out? First, the French sleep more:

French Sleep

It is obviously a clear-cut result (must be all that great s-e-x). Contrast that to South Korea and Japan at the other end of the graph. But that is not all, the French also spend more time eating (not eating more):

French Food

Both indicators point to quality of life. We know that not sleeping enough or eating badly quantitatively and qualitatively are central to health. Spending time to sit down and eat is both healthy and a matter of sociability as opposed to a utilitarian conception of eating (such grab-and-go, fast food, vending machine cardboard all eaten while walking or driving back to work).

Indeed, considering cultural and social differences in relation to food and eating as social practice:

Lucky kids, I remember eating in school in my years as a "pionne" and the food could be awful… but with diversity! Mostly, that was when principles hired industrial food companies to save money. But anyway, the OECD report is full of other interesting data, such as the persistent gender gap in leisure time:

Gender Leisure

This graph measures the leisure gap in minutes per day, with the most extreme gap in Italy and a woman advantage in Norway. Norway, along with Sweden and New Zealand, is indeed close to equality in leisure time but all the other countries have more significant gaps. One could relate that to Arlie Hochschild’s now classical concept of the Second Shift that deprives women of leisure time that men can enjoy (or often feel they are entitled to). But it is also clearly a matter of patriarchal culture.

Leisure is an important measure because it does correlate positively with satisfaction with one’s life:

Leisure Satisfaction

Leisure is also positively correlated with income, but as the report notes, it might be because as income increases, demand for more leisure time might increase as well.

And this graph is even more dramatic… compare the USA with the other OECD countries:


Yup, 0 in both categories (annual paid vacations in grey and paid holidays in blue). I wish Lane Kenworthy would weigh in on this but my simplistic take is that there is no conflict between strong social policy and productivity and income. And indeed, the report itself notes that there are therefore many possibilities open to governments in terms of social and public policy on matters of leisure.

2 thoughts on “In Praise of Strong Social(ist) Policy

  1. The last graph overstates things just a bit. Many US workers do get paid vacations (I think the average is two weeks). But the US no laws requiring employers to give congés payés. They are at the discretion of the employer.

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