The United States is the greatest country in the history of everything, if you just listen to its leaders, and a disgrace among developed countries, if you just read international surveys. Our health care system is famously expensive and inaccessible. Our education system is famously broken. Oh, and our income inequality? It's just famous.
The OECD Better Life Index, released last week, feeds the American instinct toward both jingoism and self-deprecation. In housing access and family wealth, it concludes that the U.S. really is the best country in the world. But we rank 28th among advanced nations in the category of "work-life balance," ninth from the bottom.
This raises a thorny question: If we're so rich, why are we working so hard that we don't even have time to cherish the fruits of our productivity?
There are some simple reasons why the U.S. places far below Scandinavia and other European countries among work-life metrics. We work longer hours to make all that money. So we have less down time. Also, we don't have national laws, like mandatory paternal leave, that alleviate the burden on working moms.
The surprising fact is that American leisure time has actually been increasing for most families for decades, and American men work less today, and have more down time, than ever recorded. Even if you consider that to be bad news (and many do), less work should improve just about any definition of work-life balance. Still, the most important reason why we rank barely above Mexico is the increase in single mothers who, in the U.S., face an extraordinary burden relative to their overseas counterparts.