Top 15 Countries where People Work the Most Hours – 1870/2017 – how many work hours in a year

A few days ago I wrote about the 15 nations in the world where productivity per hour worked (in dollars) is highest. In today’s article we’ll delve into another interesting economic fact. The 15 nations in the world where people work the hardest. The data refers to the period from 1870 to 2017. How many work hours in a year?

Important: the data refer to the average working hours per worker in a full year From 1870 to 1949, the data refer to full-time workers (except in agriculture). Data from this period refer to only a few countries.

From 1950 onwards the figure covers total hours in all sectors.
One last important element: for some countries the data refer to the period from 1970 to 2017. Top 15 Countries where People Work the Most Hours – 1870/2017

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Nations where people work the most hours

In 2017, in which nation, on average, do you work the most per year? The nation where people work the most is Cambodia. In fact, the average hours worked is 2455 hours per year. Next, with about 18 hours difference on average, is Myannmar. These two nations are the only ones in the world that exceed 2400 hours per year. In third place, on the other hand, is Mexico, with 2255, followed by a series of countries, including Malaysia and South Africa, which have a value of 2200 hours and 2250.

Among the nations that have a value between 2100 and 2200 hours we also find the 2 countries in the world with the most inhabitants. China, which has a value of 2174 hours and India with 2117 hours.

At the level of Continents, it is interesting to note that in 2017 most of the states are Asian. In fact, among the top 15 nations in the world, as many as 11 are part of the Asian continent. 2 are part of America (Latin America), 1 of Oceania and 1 of Africa. There are no nations from Europe.

A completely different figure from 1870 where of the first 15 nations in the world, 11 were European and 0 were from Asia.

How many work hours in a year

The situation in 1870 was markedly different than in 2017. First, in terms of total hours. In 1870, the world’s top state for hours worked, Belgium, had a value of 3483 hours annually. That’s more than 1,000 hours less than the 2017 data. But what is striking is how in general in 1870 almost all countries were European. In fact, if at the first place we find Belgium, to follow then there are Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Holland, Switzerland, France and Ireland. At the ninth place the United States followed again by European countries such as Italy and Spain. There was only one country from Oceania, Australia, 2 American countries (in addition to the USA, Canada) and zero Asian and African countries.

Worldwide evolution in the last 150 years

But so do we work more or less than we did 150 years ago? How has the situation changed? There is certainly a positive fact to underline: the hours worked, also thanks to the protests of the workers and to the union struggles (as well as the improvement of production) have reduced. If in 1870 in European countries people worked almost always more than 3000 hours, the data are very different. To give an example, if in Italy in 1870 people worked an average of about 3000 hours per year, in 2017 this figure is 1722 hours.

Not in all nations of the world, however, are the hours worked decreasing, quite the contrary. In many countries in Asia, the phenomenon is reversed. If we take Cambodia as an example, the hours worked in 1993 were 2190 and in 2017 they are 2455. Even in China, for example, it went from an average of 1976 hours in 1970 to 2174 in 2017. In short, despite a generally positive trend throughout the world, it will be necessary to pay close attention to the evolution of the figure in some countries of the world.

Annual working hours vs. Labor productivity 1950-2017

Some readers of the article may have wondered: as annual work hours have decreased, how has productivity per hour changed? To answer this question we use a chart from the fantastic site Our World in Data. Thanks to the analysis it is possible to make this comparison over time. Taking the United States as an example, it is interesting to note that the working hours from 1950 to 2017 have decreased from 1989 to 1757. An average of more than 200 hours. Labor productivity, however, at the same has increased. In fact it went from $18.14 per hour in 1950 to $65.51 in 2017. The increase was almost $50. If we take China instead, both work hours and productivity have increased. In fact, work hours from 1970 to 2017 increased from 1976 to 2164. Productivity per hour from $1.62 to $10.68.


Labor productivity per hour is measured as GDP per hour of work. GDP is measured in constant 2011 international-$, which means it is adjusted for price differences between countries (PPP adjustment) and for inflation to allow comparisons between countries and over time.

Source and links

To create this article and the video above the source used is: Huberman & Minns (2007); PWT 9.1 (2019);
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