According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, a United Nations organization comprised of the world’s 30 largest economies, South Korea’s average hourly productivity between 2000 and 2004 was $10.40 per hour, equating to $10.40 earned in economic output produced each hour by a Korean worker. In contrast, the average productivity of a U.S. worker between 2000 and 2004 was $40.00 per hour, nearly four times more than that of the average Korean worker. U.S. productivity on a per hour, per worker basis exceeded that of any other OECD nation, including runner-up Japan, whose workers each produced on average $39.90 in economic output per hour. The U.S. was more productivity during this period by this measure and than that of any other economy, including all European countries. My friend married to an Austrian who insist that Austrians are more efficient than Americans can put that myth away.
If you’re a working American, it’s OK to smile knowing that you’re one of the most productive people on the planet, even more efficient than the vaunted Japanese salaryman. If you’re an American expatriate working long term in Korea, you may also nod your head upon reading this statistic, because the OECD confirmed what has been gnawing at you for quite some time–the feeling that on a per-hour basis you are more productive than your Korean counterparts. Still, the OECD’s statistic does not quite tell the whole story. For one, Koreans work about 25% more hours annually than Americans do. This boosts their overall annual productivity by 25%. In addition, the OECD statistic measures the period 2000-04. Koreans are no doubt more productive in 2006 than they were in 2000, the beginning of the period measured by the OECD. In addition, Korean productivity gains very likely exceeded American productivity gains during the same period. Korean workers are also more likely to be involved in manufacturing than their American counterparts, who are more likely to be engaged in services. While productivity gains occur in both sectors, productivity advances in service sectors frequently outpace manufacturing gains.
Yet, any way you look at this statistic and try to explain it away, one fact is indisputable–Americans can still get almost four times as much done in an hour as Koreans do!