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5 Countries Where You Don't Have to Work Yourself to Death to Make Ends Meet

America is no worker's paradise.

Earlier this summer we explored some things we could do as a nation to improve work-life balance, from the basic (paid sick leave, anyone?) to the truly innovative. This time, we're looking around the world: which countries fare better than ours in helping citizens survive without working themselves to death?

Of course, it’s hard not to respond to this question: “hmmm anywhere without child labor and a two-day weekend!” After all, not only do we rank among the worst in terms of paid leave for parents or family sickness and have zero mandatory vacation hours, Americans often don’t even take the vacation we’ve got!

Still, not ever other country with a decent economy is better than we are in every way. We have more women in the workforce than most, for instance. That’s why it’s instructive to compare ourselves to other nations and see who does what better, and what policies and attitudes we could emulate.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) makes a study of this sort of thing, ranking countries on quality of life -- the “Better Life Index” -- based on a number of factors, including work-life balance, safety, health, longevity, and more. So using that series of data as well as other information, the following are some countries that have better work-life balance--either overall, or in individual categories--than we do. And yes, though the Scandinavian countries basically kick everyone else’s ass in this category, we didn’t exclusively highlight them, since there are so many other countries that best us in this area we had the liberty to choose from among them.

1. Canada: Not perfect, but better than the US. 

It's not light years ahead of us, but it's still ahead. One thing that puts our neighbors to the north over the top in the head-to-head race, besides the requisite jokes about ice hockey and maple syrup? The men do a lot of the household work--although there’s still disparity between men and women:

Men in Canada spend 146 minutes per day cooking, cleaning or caring, higher than the OECD average of 131 minutes but considerably less than Canadian women who spend 248 minutes per day on average on domestic work .

But the primary thing that puts Canada ahead of the US? Only about 4% of its workforce works “very long hours” compared to 11% here in the States. Canadians also benefit from a mandated  paid vacation policy in every province, although it varies from place to place.

2. Denmark: Overall champ.

This pesky little Scandinavian country comes out on top of nearly all these sorts of rankings, doesn't it? But it comes down to the numbers: Less than 2% of its workforce work those extra-long hours, and it is closest to gender parity of any country. Each day, Danes are able to spend about two-thirds of their hours sleeping, eating, taking care of themselves and chilling out--not bad at all. In fact, it's also number one in global happiness by some measures.

One British couple moved to Denmark to start a family, and found themselves astounded by the improved life they were leading:


Since moving from Finsbury Park in London to Copenhagen three years ago with my husband Duncan, our quality of life has skyrocketed and our once staunch London loyalism has been replaced by an almost embarrassing enthusiasm for everything "Dansk."

The greatest change has been the shift in work-life balance. Whereas previously we might snatch dinner once Duncan escaped from work at around nine, he now leaves his desk at five. Work later than 5:30 and the office is a morgue. Work at the weekend and the Danes think you are mad. The idea is that families have time to play and eat together at the end of the day, every day. And it works. Duncan bathes and puts our 14-month-old daughter Liv to bed most nights. They are best buddies as opposed to strangers who try to reacquaint at the weekend.

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