Icelanders Have Longest Working Life in Europe Skip to content

Icelanders Have Longest Working Life in Europe

By Larissa Kyzer

Photo: Golli. Worker sawing the pavement next to Tjörnin, the Reykjavík City Pond.

Icelanders work longer than people from any other country in the EU, RÚV reports. These findings support a growing call from labour unions to shorten the existing work week in Iceland. Shortening the work week is thought to be labour unions’ highest priority issue during ongoing wage negotiations.

According to data from Eurostat, the office which provides official statistics for the EU, Icelandic men work on average for almost 49 years and Icelandic women around 45, whereas Swedish men, for example, work 42 years and Swedish women work 40 over a lifetime. On average, Icelandic men work about a decade longer and Icelandic women work five years longer than their peers throughout the European Union.

Icelanders work an average of 45 hours a week. People like Guðmundur D. Haraldsson, a board member of Alda, the Association for Sustainable Democracy, say it’s clear that it would be possible to shorten the work week in Iceland, and not just for people working day shifts, either.

“It’s perfectly realistic for us to work our way towards a 32-hour work week,” Guðmundur remarked. “It would take a long time. But it would not bring productivity down or [have a negative effect on] the economy. It would run its course. There’s every reason to focus on these issues now. There’s a lot more stability than there used to be.”

Adrian Harper, a researcher at the New Economics Foundation, agrees, and told RÚV that there was no doubt that the work week should be shortened, particularly in a country like Iceland, which has so many natural resources.

“A good economy shouldn’t revolve solely around creating more wealth and a higher GDP,” he said. “Rather the economy should revolve around producing more leisure time so that we can better enjoy life. At the end of their lives, no one wishes they’d spent more time working. We shouldn’t just aim for shorter working hours; we could also make it so that we better enjoy life immediately. Particularly in a place like Iceland, which has such wealth and such robust technical know-how, the transformation can begin right now. Working less is good for everyone and for the economy in general.”

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